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Biographical entry Hughes, Leslie Ernest (1932 - 2011)

MB BS Sydney 1955; FRCS 1959; FRACS 1959; DS Queensland 1975.

12 August 1932
Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia
3 March 2011
General surgeon


Leslie Hughes was professor of surgery at the University of Wales College of Medicine. He was born in Parramatta in New South Wales, Australia, on 12 August 1932, the fifth of eight children of Charles Joseph Hughes and Vera Dorothy Hughes née Raines. His father was a tailor and his mother had been a secretary. His paternal ancestor, Joseph Ferdinand Hughes, a coal merchant from Wednesbury, travelled to Australia in 1877, leaving Plymouth aboard the Corona with his three sons as paying passengers. His mother's family had arrived in less auspicious circumstances, having been transported from London in 1821. Leslie Hughes was educated at Parramatta High School and Sydney University. He initially studied agricultural science as his intention was to become a farmer; however his older brother Walter, a medical student who was also later to become a surgeon, persuaded him that a career in medicine was a better option.

After a surgical registrar post at Concorde Hospital, Sydney, he moved to the UK. He initially worked at Derby City Hospital and then West Middlesex Hospital, training in surgery. In 1962 he was appointed as a cancer research fellow at King's College Hospital.

In 1964 he returned to Australia, to the University of Queensland, as a reader in surgery. As well as his clinical work, he was involved in the Queensland melanoma project. Between 1969 and 1970 he was the Eleanor Roosevelt cancer research fellow at the Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, USA. He returned to Brisbane, but was soon appointed professor of surgery in Cardiff.

He was a sound clinician in the wards and clinics, often demonstrating an enviable knowledge of areas outside his immediate expertise. In the operating theatre his technique was meticulous and, although he was sometimes, unfairly, perceived as slow, when the occasion demanded it he could be very swift indeed. His lasting contribution to clinical surgery was his decision to study relatively neglected Cinderella subjects such as hidradenitis suppurativa, benign breast disease, incisional hernia and diverticular disease. Out of these studies came a deeper understanding of the pathophysiology of these conditions, leading to rational treatment strategies for them. Although much of his research was clinically based he ran an effective laboratory investigating the nature of the inflammatory response and the immunobiology of cancer.

He contributed to the wider debate in the medical school, where his carefully measured opinion was greatly valued. This was reflected in his appointment as vice provost. He was actively involved in the running and delivery of the undergraduate curriculum in surgery and was much sought after as an external examiner for other universities. However, it was as a trainer of young surgeons that he really excelled. His insistence on excellence in the wards, clinics and operating theatre enabled many trainees to develop their full potential. He was equally determined to promote excellence in research, and this is demonstrated by the fact that 18 or so of his trainees went on to become professors of surgery in various countries around the world.

Although he could appear rather austere at first, he was an entertaining and knowledgeable companion. He was intensely supportive of those under his aegis, even providing avenues to alternative careers for those whose surgical careers had stalled.

Apart from his work in Cardiff, he contributed to the national scene. He was at various times president of the Surgical Research Society, the British Association of Surgical Oncology, the Welsh Surgical Society and the History of Medicine Society of Wales, and on the editorial board of the British Journal of Surgery. At the Royal College of Surgeons he was an examiner for the primary, in pathology and for the second part of the FRCS. In 1987 he gave a Hunterian lecture entitled 'Changing trends in management of malignant melanoma'.

Outside work, his abiding interest was his family, whose achievements he would relate with quiet pride. He married a fellow medical graduate, Marion Castle, in 1954. They had four children - Bronwyn, a dermatologist married to a urological surgeon (Phillip Britton), Gillian, Graeme and Stephen, who predeceased him - and five grandchildren.

He was closely involved in his local Baptist Church, where he sang in the choir. His deep Christian faith informed much of what he did. He had a great love of music, particularly choral music and was at home at the Welsh National Opera, St David's Hall and listening to male voice choirs. He maintained a pleasant garden and was particularly fond of growing vegetables, and passing on his skills and knowledge to his children.

In retirement, while his health allowed, he travelled widely. He would spend two to three months each year in Sydney, where he retained an apartment, spending time with family and exploring new places in the country. Not only did he travel for holidays, he was also often invited to lecture overseas by many of the surgeons he had trained or with whom he collaborated. He continued to be interested in developments in medicine and expanded his knowledge of medical history, writing illuminating pieces for journals. He extensively researched his family tree.

His final years were dogged by a debilitating disease that he bore with great dignity and fortitude inspired by his deep Christian faith. He died peacefully at Winchester on 3 March 2011 aged 78.

David Webster

The Royal College of Surgeons of England