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Biographical entry Hendry, William Forbes (1938 - 2012)

FRCS 1966; MB ChB Glasgow 1961: ChM 1971; MD 1993; FRCS Edin 1966.

15 June 1938
3 October 2012


William Forbes 'Bill' Hendry was an internationally known urologist who spent his consultant career enhancing the reputations of St Bartholomew's Hospital, the Royal Marsden and the Institute of Urology in London. He also had a few sessions at the Chelsea Hospital for Women, and in addition served as a civilian consultant to the Royal Navy. He has been described as 'one of the UK's most influential urologists in the 1980s and 1990s'.

Bill was born in Birmingham by caesarean section performed on 15 June 1938 by Dame Hilda Lloyd, later president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. He was the son of Duncan William Hendry and Edna Beatrice Hendry née Woodley. He had a younger sister, Joy, who was born after the Second World War - she became a professor of anthropology. His younger brother, Ian, became a Foreign Office lawyer. Bill's father was in general practice before the Second World War and, after war service, became a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in Nuneaton. His mother was a nurse who trained and worked at the Royal Glasgow Infirmary.

Bill was educated at Uppingham School, where he showed considerable academic promise and proceeded to Glasgow University for his medical studies, thus following in his father's footsteps. When he was at university Bill met Chirsty Macdonald, a nurse. They married at St Columba's Church, Glasgow, in November 1961. They had three children, Duncan Forbes, a gardener, Catherine Louise, a consultant haematologist at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, and Alexander Donald, a journalist in Hong Kong. Bill and Chirsty were superb parents, and placed great emphasis on a normal family life.

After house appointments in Glasgow, Bill obtained a Fulbright scholarship to travel to the USA for two years, at a time when Duncan was just a year old. Bill spent his time working in Boston, Massachusetts, at the Boston City Hospital, being trained quite broadly in pathology. He always maintained that this was an excellent grounding for anyone thinking of taking up surgery. Bill's salary was supplemented by Chirsty, who worked as a nurse in Boston: American hospitals were always delighted to have UK-trained nurses working on their staff. Returning to the UK, Bill continued his surgical training in Glasgow.

When he decided to specialise in urology, he was advised to move south. He became a senior registrar on a rotation between Portsmouth and the Institute of Urology in London. He gained good urological experience on the south coast under the supervision of John Vinnicombe and Forbes Abercrombie. Here he was able to see and be trained in the diverse disease patterns seen in a provincial hospital. He proved a rapid learner and much enjoyed this experience. Later he went to the Institute of Urology in London, where he was able to see and assist the many specialist urologists in their various fields.

In 1973 he was appointed as a consultant at Bart's. A year later he joined the Royal Marsden. Working as a consultant urologist at Bart's, the Royal Marsden and the Chelsea Hospital for Women gave him ample opportunity to exercise his fertile mind. He was quick to spot the important connection between oncology and infertility, and the link between testicular cancer, retroperitoneal surgery and andrology. One of his trainees at Bart's said: 'He was always top of his game - whatever he set out to do it was always going to be as good experience for the patient and for the outcome as it could possibly be. He treated each new patient as a challenge requiring continuous refinement.' Towards this end he sought the collaboration of colleagues in clinical problems. He adopted this approach from the outset of his consultant career. One example of this was to challenge radiotherapy as the treatment of choice for bladder cancer. He began to perform total cystectomies, both as primary procedures and also after radiotherapy. Cystectomy was only performed by a few urologists in the UK at the time because of its difficulty and the high incidence of complications. He published the results of his studies in the British Journal of Urology, showing that the three- and five-year survivals were 10% better in those patients who had preoperative radiotherapy and cystectomy, compared with those undergoing radical radiotherapy ('Treatment of T3 bladder cancer: controlled trial of pre-operative radiotherapy and radical cystectomy versus radical radiotherapy' Br J Urol. 1982 Apr;54[2]:136-51). This article was only one of some 304 of his publications on urological oncology and male subfertility. The key to his considerable success in publishing was his care in collecting data and his honesty in publishing his results. From the start of his consultant career he took home nearly all the theatre patient call-cards and stored them in a Kardex system in his study. This made it easier to trace his patients for careful follow-up. Such a degree of introspection and self-critical analysis is most unusual in a surgeon.

He was one of the first to show that, in cases where testicular cancer had spread to retroperitoneal lymph nodes, the removal of the nodes improved survival rate and guided further treatment. In this area, as well as pelvic surgery, he honed his techniques to limit damage to nerves connected with ejaculation. This was aided by studies he did in the post-mortem room.

Another interest was in the area of male fertility and reversal of vasectomy performed for contraceptive purposes. He was interested in the role that anti-sperm antibodies played in poor results after vasectomy reversal. He recognised the part played by the use of steroids, while at the same time his publications conceded the complications of a high dose steroid regime.

Bill was a patient and inspirational teacher, who became a role model for many of those passing through his department, be it in testicular cancer, bladder cancer or infertility. He was never late and was always at his desk in outpatients before the start time, and stressed the importance of this on those fortunate enough to work with him. They in their turn remember his many aphorisms. He used such phrases as 'most ureteric stones pass spontaneously if you ignore them', 'be nice to anaesthetists, we cannot do without them', 'don't rely on luck in surgery', and many others.

He was president of the British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS) from 1996 to 1998 and St Peter's medallist in 1999, and president of the section of urology of the Royal Society of Medicine in from 1993 to 1994. He was joint editor of the British Journal of Urology with Hugh Whitfield from 1992 to 1996, stepping down when he became president of BAUS. He was Hunterian Professor in 1989 and again in 1998, and Sir Arthur Sims Commonwealth Travelling Professor from 1989 to 1990, when his main visits were to Australia and New Zealand, and also to Zimbabwe.

Bill Hendry gave his final address 'A humble shop floor worker' at a valedictory meeting held in his honour on 26 June 2000 at St Bartholomew's Hospital. He believed that a surgeon's skills had a limited lifespan and, as a clean break from a busy life in medicine, Bill and Chirsty moved to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 2000. They took up a croft next door to the Macdonald's, his wife's parents. Together they set up a herd of highland cattle, the second in Brue. In addition to helping to improve and renovate a community centre in Barvas, he organised the Westside Agricultural Show. Raising rare breed cattle became a passion.

Bill and Chirsty remained a devoted couple throughout their married life. Chirsty developed Alzheimer's disease, and he cared for her over this difficult period, nursing her until she predeceased him by six months after a long decline. Typically, he was planning to write about his experience, and this would have been a unique and insightful lesson in caring for a life-long partner. Sadly he died on 3 October 2012, at the age of 75, after a heart attack, before he could carry out this task.

Justin Vale
N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from: British Association of Urological Surgeons news archive obituary October 2012; BMJ 2013 346 163; Louise Davies; John Vinnicombe.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England