Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Dooley, Denis (1913 - 2010)

OBE 1979; MRCS 1945; FRCS 1975; BA London 1936; LRCP 1945.

10 December 1913
19 May 2010
Anatomist and Public health officer


Denis Dooley was Her Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy from 1965 to 1980. He was born on 10 December 1913. He was educated at St Ignatius' College, Stamford Hill, London, and then went on to study mathematics and Latin, gaining a BA degree from London University in 1936. He then returned to his old school as a teacher. In 1938, he developed peritonitis from a burst appendix and was an inpatient at St George's Hospital for three months, after which he decided on a medical career - financed as a wartime fire-watcher. He trained in medicine at St Mary's Hospital, London.

He was determined to gain a house post working for the prominent surgeon Arthur Dickson Wright, who he knew appointed only the most outstanding graduates. Denis had no illusions about his place on the list, but noted that Dickson Wright's house surgeons were worked so hard that they almost invariably failed to last the full six-month appointment. Denis decided to wait. Sure enough, the next successful candidate lasted only a few weeks, and Denis stepped into the breach. Sadly, he lasted for an even shorter period, before taking to his bed in the residency. The next morning, the door of his room opened sufficiently to reveal Dickson Wright's nose. He asked: 'Dooley, how soon before you are back at work?' Denis groaned: 'Sir, the way I feel now, I shall never work again.' The nose was withdrawn, the door closed, and the appointment terminated.

In 1946 Denis became a house surgeon to Sir Zachary Cope and, a year later, became a research registrar to Sir Alexander Fleming, administering the recently available penicillin to treat a patient suffering from bacterial endocarditis.

From 1948 to 1952, he was a resident medical officer at Charing Cross Hospital. He was generous in helping out during busy periods. One day, when the casualty department was busy, he undertook to see the male revisits. Soon the queue had disappeared, but the treatment area was bulging with patients. An anxious nurse emerged, holding a stack of casualty cards. On each was written 'RUS.DD'. When Denis was asked the meaning, he admonished the junior doctors for their lack of Latin, replying: 'Quite simple; Rep. ut supra (repeat as above) Denis Dooley'.

His role at Charing Cross included the health care of medical students, resident doctors and nurses. At that time most of the newly qualified doctors were ex-servicemen, and they were expected to adhere to pre-war rules, including being banned from living a married life. Denis tried to protect them from the oppressive restrictions, but only with partial success. His support for the juniors brought him into conflict with the governing body and he was warned not to apply to have his appointment renewed.

From 1952 to 1954 he was a general practitioner in Barnes and Wimbledon. He then served as a medical officer for the Ministry of Health, becoming a senior medical officer in 1973. By chance, one of his duties was to inspect the London teaching hospitals. He arrived to inspect the governance of Charing Cross Hospital, and he could not help but feel contempt for the unctuous greetings he received from the same people who had in effect sacked him for attempting to protect the resident doctors from authoritarian restrictions.

From 1965 to 1980 Denis served as Her Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy. One of his duties was to regulate the use of bodies for dissection in the study of anatomy. Out of this appointment came a series of reports and lectures, including the Arris and Gale lecture at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1972 (published as 'A dissection of anatomy' Ann R Coll Surg Engl 1973 July; 53[1]:13-26), a Royal Institution lecture in 1974 ('The rediscovery of anatomy'), and the Medical Society of London annual oration in 1977 ('On the anomaly of anatomy' Transactions of the Medical Society of London 92-93;192-208). In 1972, in recognition of his work, he was made a life member of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and in 1979 he was awarded an OBE.

He was a devote Roman Catholic. In 1946 he carried a cross 500 miles to V├ęzelay Abbey in Burgundy, France, as part of a group marching for peace. Friends remember him for his generosity and for his rejection of personal possessions. He was a master of the portentous-seeming entrance, soon to be punctured by a humorous and sly, witty follow-up - the ultimate 'character'.

Outside medicine, he enjoyed golf, bridge and scrabble. He met his wife Eileen at St Mary's Hospital. They had a son, Michael, and a daughter, Johanna. Denis Dooley died on 19 May 2010 at the age of 96. His last words were the Lord's Prayer, recited in Latin.

R M Kirk

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Michael Dooley, John Pendower, Dickie Fairer and Joyce Philip].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England