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Biographical entry Todd, Ronald Stanley (1930 - 2011)

FRCS 1961; MB BS Liverpool 1954; FRCS Edin 1960.

16 February 1930
Liverpool, UK
17 September 2011
General surgeon and Vascular surgeon


Ron Todd was amongst only the second generation of surgeons appointed to the Wrexham hospitals. He was initially based at the War Memorial Hospital and also in the expanded Emergency Medical Services (EMS) hospital in the town, which was later further developed into the district general hospital for north east Wales. He evolved a leading role in surgical practice there and established a vascular service for the area.

He was born on 16 February 1930 in Crosby, Liverpool, where his father ran a photographic business. He first attended the Rolyat Preparatory School and then he went on to Merchant Taylors' School, in Crosby, and left school at 15. In 1946, after the Second World War, at the age of 16, he decided on a career in the Merchant Navy and commenced training as a sea cadet, on the ill-fated HMS Conway, which finally broke its back on the Menai Strait. Ron eschewed this career, having realised that life at sea was not going to suit him. He returned to school, willingly accepted back by his headmaster. He then achieved the necessary grades to be accepted by Liverpool Medical School. He always believed that his interview had succeeded since he knew who had written Raffles.

For his National Service, in 1948, he joined the Army and entered the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, but was released early to start medical school in 1949. He purchased a 350cc Royal Enfield motorbike, which provided him with useful transport. On one occasion, no doubt having journeyed thence on the bike, he and a friend became stuck at the top of the big wheel at New Brighton amusement park and were late for afternoon lectures. Ron was a tall man and, at the annual medical school ball, he always won a prize during the dances for wearing the shoes of the largest size. With few home entertainments at these times, he studied late into the night in the library.

He qualified in 1954 from the University of Liverpool. During his initial employment, one of surgical consultants at the Liverpool Royal told Ron and a friend that there was a subterranean way into the nurses' home. Dressed in white overalls one night, they lifted a manhole cover and crawled along some pipes, only to find themselves in the main boiler room. This room was next door to the post mortem room and the boiler man almost succumbed from terror on seeing two apparitions emerge in front of him.

After his house jobs at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary and Mill Road Maternity Hospital, which involved regular casualty duties, he initially took an interest in obstetrics and gynaecology. But this proved not to be to his taste, so he launched into the practice of general surgery. He started his training at the David Lewis Northern Hospital (opened in 1902 with 237 beds - it closed, its function being supplanted by the Liverpool Royal, in 1978). During his younger days, he took up flying fixed wing aircraft and gained his private pilot licence. He also enjoyed sailing.

Between 1960 and 1961, after five years as a surgical trainee, he obtained his fellowships of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons of England and Edinburgh. He was subsequently appointed to work at the Birkenhead General Hospital as a registrar with two consultants, Furber Murphy and J B Oldham, whom he much respected. After cutting his surgical teeth, he decided it was time to boost his career with some research activity and, with a close colleague, John Laine, he travelled to New York in the RMS Sylvania. They both took up research fellowships under the wings of John M Howard at the Hahnemann Hospital, Philadelphia. This led to several publications on renal transplantation.

On his return to Liverpool, in 1963, he became a lecturer in the department of surgery under the indomitable C A Wells. During further training and research activities, he met his companion for life, Gillian Drinkwater, a sister on ward five of the Royal Infirmary. He met her when requested to review a case of severe pancreatitis on her medical ward. They were married in 1966.

Wrexham, a border town in north east Wales, had had only a single generation of surgeons prior to Ron's appointment - two surgeons, Robert Ninian from Glasgow and John Spalding from Guy's Hospital, both of whom had been appointed after the Second World War. Arriving as a consultant surgeon to the Wrexham Powys and Mawdach Hospital in 1965, Ron had responsibilities in the Wrexham War Memorial Hospital and also the expanded wartime EMS hospital in Croesnewydd Road, into which, eventually, the services of a district general hospital were subsumed. He also thoroughly enjoyed working at the outlying Dolgellau and Welshpool hospitals.

A true general surgeon, like his three colleagues, he had to cope with a wide variety of problems, but he could now offer vascular expertise to the region. This was much needed in a mining community with a high proportion of smokers. The hospital had previously been heavily dependent on specialist facilities in Liverpool and Manchester. When John Laine was appointed three years after Ron arrived, they attracted medical students from Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham, and began to advance the hospital in the direction it needed to go.

Todd served as College tutor and postgraduate chairman and was later elected to the Court of Examiners of the English College, where he was widely respected. He encouraged several of his colleagues to follow his example in becoming elected to the Court. Ron sometimes joked that he learnt more from the candidates than from books! He had a prodigiously good memory and a sense of humour, often directing quips against himself. He was also a man who gave sound didactic advice, popular or not! Ron was a thoughtful and highly supportive colleague, speedily and wisely decisive, with an inbuilt mastery of surgical craftsmanship. Calmness and self-control in the operating theatre were two of his hallmarks. One of his finest achievements was to give wise and essential counsel to his trainees and junior colleagues.

Gill and Ron had three very successful children, two ultimately became barristers and the third, treading truly in his father's talented footsteps, became a well-liked and gifted consultant in gynaecological oncology. Ron retired in 1990, having given 25 years of heavy commitment to the community of a tough mining and border town. Unfortunately the last few years of his life became blighted with Parkinson's disease and a severe neuropathy. Gill gave her all to care for him during these hard times, as did her family and friends. He died on 17 September 2011.

Ron was a quiet and private man who deeply cared for his family. He was the epitome of a wise, kind, talented, and reliable general surgeon, one of those masters who could teach so much and lead by sound example.

M K H Crumplin

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Mrs Gillian Todd, John Laine and Ian Wort].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England