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Biographical entry Sellors, Patrick John Holmes (1934 - 2010)

KCVO 1999; LVO 1990; BA Oxford 1955; BM BCh 1958; FRCS 1965; FRCOphth 1990.

11 February 1934
London, UK
30 September 2010
London, UK


Sir Patrick Holmes Sellors was one of the most prominent ophthalmologists in the United Kingdom during the latter part of the 20th century. Appointed to the consultant staff of St George's Hospital, London, at the early age of 31, the majority of his NHS sessions he enjoyed at the Croydon eye unit, Mayday Hospital. He became Surgeon-Oculist to the Royal Household in 1974 and in 1980 Surgeon-Oculist to Her Majesty The Queen. For his efforts in restoring the late Queen Mother's failing eyesight, he was made Lieutenant of the Victorian Order in the 1990 New Year honours, and was advanced Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, an honour in the Queen's personal gift, on retiring in 1999.

Born in London into a medical family on 11 February 1934, Sir Patrick's grandfather, Thomas Blanchard Sellors, was a general practitioner, first in Wandsworth, London, before moving to Southend with his wife, Anne Oliver Sellors (née McSparron). Sir Patrick's father, Sir Thomas Holmes Sellors (always known as 'Uncle Tom'), was a well-known and highly-regarded surgeon in the cardiothoracic field: he became president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. Working at Harefield and the Middlesex hospitals, with medical colleagues Sir Thomas built up high profile cardiac units. Tragedy struck early in his father's first marriage to Brenda (née Lyell), whom he married in 1928: she died of appendicitis. In 1932 he married Dorothy Elizabeth Chesshire, a medical secretary, by whom he had two children, Sir Patrick and his younger sister, Susan. When both children were in their late teens, their mother developed a stroke due to hypertension and died in 1953, at a time when their father was in a very demanding period of his life. In 1955 Sir Thomas married for a third time, to his secretary, Marie Hobson.

Sir Patrick's early schooling was at the Downs School, Malvern in Worcestershire. He progressed to Rugby School, where he had a good academic record without winning prizes. He did gain a prestigious state scholarship to follow his father's footsteps into medicine. Like Sir Thomas, he went to Oriel College, Oxford University. Enjoying sport in his very early years, a serious illness, possibly poliomyelitis, affected the muscles of his lower leg and feet, and reduced his participation in competitive games, except for golf, which he took up in his teens at Rugby. As did his father before him, Sir Patrick secured a university entrance scholarship to the Middlesex Hospital, qualifying in 1958, having gained a prize in medicine in 1957.

After house appointments, he received his ophthalmic training at the High Holborn branch of Moorfields. Initially his interests lay in retinal surgery, but later he was very much a general ophthalmologist. He held a few part-time consultant appointments at the Royal Marsden Hospital and the majority at Croydon eye unit of the Mayday Hospital, where he became the senior surgeon. He had a flourishing private practice and obtained appointments at both King Edward VII's Hospital for Officers and St Luke's Hospital for the Clergy.

Throughout his professional life Sir Patrick was active in the promotion of UK ophthalmology. He was honorary secretary to the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom, founded in 1890 by Sir William Bowman. It held annual scientific meetings to further ophthalmic practice. The Society merged with the Faculty of Ophthalmologists and became the College of Ophthalmologists in 1988. It gained a royal licence five years later. Having been a council member of the Faculty, Sir Patrick later became a council member of the College, serving the South West Thames region, then vice-president and chairman of examiners of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. Always interested in training and maintaining high standards, one colleague noted that candidates would often misread his benign almost avuncular demeanour as chairman of the examinations committee, 'often finding out that they had seriously misjudged the situation….'

He was a great supporter of the ophthalmological section of the Royal Society of Medicine and became its president, as he did of the Southern Ophthalmological Society. He was a member of the General Optical Council until 1997. He had the distinction of being deputy master of the Oxford Congress, one of the longest running gatherings of ophthalmic surgeons.

Sir Patrick was a popular and inspirational teacher who co-authored, with Roger Coakes, the highly-regarded textbook An outline of ophthalmology (Bristol, Wright) written for undergraduates and trainees. First published in 1985, it went into two editions. A former trainee made this tribute to his former teacher: "It was an enormous pleasure to work under the guidance of Sir Patrick and many have been the times since then that I have recounted the highlights of those ophthalmological experiences to my friends and colleagues. His waspish wit was always tempered by, and enthused with, kindness, and the combination was utterly delightful and amusing."

Although he contributed chapters to two books and produced a small number of papers, he never published a great deal, but as one of the trustees of the Lady Allerton Fund he was instrumental in funding the first clinical trial of the diode laser and supported the early work in the UK of optical coherence tomography.

One of his great strengths and skills was in the oft-neglected field of medico-legal work. He was a popular member of the Medical Defence Union (MDU), whose council he joined in 1977. A colleague, Tim ffytche, said: 'many is the time that his private consulting room would be filled with bulky tomes concerning professional misdemeanours for him to give an opinion on and help resolve. He represented ophthalmic interests in and out of court and his lectures to colleagues on the legal pitfalls that lay in wait for the unwary will be long remembered…'. After retiring from the MDU in 2003, Sir Patrick was made an honorary fellow.

In August 1946 Sir Patrick married Gillian Gratton Swallow, a nurse at Middlesex Hospital. They had three children of their happy marriage: Jonathan, a lawyer, Jane, a consultant anaesthetist, and Richard, who works in sales promotion and advertising.

Sir Patrick and Gill retired to West Runton, Norfolk, to spend more time together. They were still able to travel to London for theatre, concerts and various functions, and were able to visit family in Australia. Sir Patrick had more time to read and pursue in particular his interest in history and his considerable talent in painting. He was able to tend their garden and enjoyed playing golf on many of Norfolk's windy golf courses. His beloved dog enjoyed the walks they were able to take together.

Sir Patrick John Holmes Sellors died in St Thomas' Hospital at the age of 76 on 30 September 2010. He had travelled to London for a celebratory lunch of the Medical Defence Union and was taken ill as he was surrounded by fellow doctors. Although treatment was very prompt, and initially seemed successful for an aortic dissection, he died some five days later in the intensive care unit, after a major stroke. He was survived by his wife of 49 years, and his three children and five grandchildren (Polly, Jack, Amelia, Oscar and Louis).

He is remembered by his friends, colleagues and patients for his courtesy, wisdom and as a staunch and amiable friend with a strong character, who did not always suffer fools gladly, but yet was an amusing raconteur.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Eastern Daily Press 12 October 2010 - accessed 29 October 2014; ffytche, T. 'Sir Patrick Holmes Sellors' - accessed 29 October 2014; Lady Gill Sellors; Jane Sellors; Jonathan Sellors; Richard Sellors].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England