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Biographical entry Matheson, Thomas Swan (1920 - 2009)

MB BCh Edin 1943; FRCS Edin 1948; MRCS and FRCS 1982.

8 February 1920
Edinburgh, UK
6 November 2009
General surgeon


Thomas Swan Matheson ('Tom') was a consultant general surgeon with gastrointestinal interests in York from 1964 to 1985, having previously worked at Otley, where he built up the surgical service. He was born in Edinburgh on 8 February 1920, the son of Thomas Pearson Matheson, a civil servant, and his wife, Mabel Keiller Matheson née Swan. Tom was educated at George Watson's College, Edinburgh, from 1926 to 1938, and then entered Edinburgh University for his medical training, distinguishing himself in the preclinical years by winning both the Cunningham memorial medal in anatomy and the Vans Dunlop bursary in anatomy and physiology in 1940. He was greatly influenced by his anatomy teacher, E B Jamieson, and retained a good knowledge of clinical anatomy throughout his professional life.

Qualifying during the Second World War, he held a house surgeon post at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, before entering the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1944 as a surgeon lieutenant. He served in HMS Warspite for a year and then in 3rd submarine flotilla, until 1946.

Returning to civilian life, he went to the Leicester Royal Infirmary for a year as a house surgeon, but continued in the RNVR after war service, becoming a surgeon lieutenant commander in 1952. He was awarded the Volunteer Reserve Decoration (VRD) in 1961. He continued his nautical interests, and was later on the management committee of York Sea Cadets, of which he became vice chairman and later chairman.

For his higher surgical training he returned in 1947 for two years as a registrar to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and passed his fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. During this period he married Agnes Marjory MacLaren ('Nan'), in March 1948. They met at the Royal Infirmary, Leicester, when they were both residents. Nan and Tom had two children, Jane and Ian.

Tom then proceeded to a further year of training as a registrar at Hull Royal Infirmary and continued as a senior registrar there for two years until 1952, rotating with Bradford Royal Infirmary. He trained in urology with Hamilton Stewart during these years. All this training took place in the years when more than 30 well-trained senior registrar surgeons were applying for every one consultant vacancy. So he wisely chose to mark time and went to Leeds General Infirmary as a senior registrar for a further four years, until 1958. Here he worked with, and was greatly influenced by, Michael Oldfield and Digby Chamberlain, the last of the 'Leeds school' to have been trained by Lord Moynihan.

In 1958 he became the first surgical specialist in Otley and Ilkley, where he rapidly built up the surgical facilities. He then moved to York, in 1964. He was also an honorary lecturer at the University of Leeds, where he also engaged in private practice.

In Otley and in York he was widely regarded as a true gentleman by colleagues, trainees and, more importantly, by patients in both the NHS and private sectors. As a true general surgeon, he felt it was a great privilege to work in hospitals at a time when professionals were able to share in management as well as practise in their chosen field. He set his own targets, pre-dating the current business management model. He enjoyed his time as a surgical tutor for the Royal College of Surgeons, and was wise in his advice to trainees who sought his help.

As the family grew up, Nan worked in general practice and then in public health clinics. For the final 10 years of her professional life she was engaged in occupational health, working for Rowntree's (the chocolate makers) and York District General Hospital.

Tom's gastrointestinal interests were apparent in his unstinting support of the York division of the Ileostomy Association, of which he was chairman for 25 years from 1968. He and Nan also helped to create and sustain St Leonard's Hospice in York, of which he was vice chairman from 1978. This interest continued long into retirement.

As a member of the 1921 Surgical Club of Great Britain, one of the travelling surgical clubs to which Lord Moynihan gave his patronage, he and Nan travelled to many surgical clinics abroad. On these occasions he was able to exercise his photographic skills, one of his many interests.

Thomas Matheson enjoyed rounds of golf when he was physically active. He and the family enjoyed dinghy sailing and his abiding interest in the sea continued as he crewed for friends who owned larger boats. He took up angling when he retired and gained much pleasure fishing for trout in the River Rye with the Ryedale Anglers, and at Spring Lakes in North Yorkshire. At the appropriate times of the year he went back to his native Scotland to engage in salmon fishing.

He was an active member of the Company of Merchant Taylors in the city of York and was master from 1988 to 1989.

The Mathesons lived for 40 years in Holtby and enjoyed a sociable and fulfilled life together. Tom cared for his wife Nan when she became ill. She died in 2006, and he then moved to Wigginton, York, for a further two years. He died on 6 November 2009, aged 89, and was survived by his two children, Ian and Jane, four granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Jane Matheson; Ian Matheson].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England