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Biographical entry Tooley, Alan Hunter (1930 - 2012)

MB BS London 1953; MRCS 1953; FRCS 1957; Hon FGCPS.

13 May 1930
11 November 2012
General surgeon


Alan Hunter Tooley was a consultant general surgeon at North Ormesby Hospital, Middlesbrough. He was born in East Ham, London, on 13 May 1930, the only child of Geordie parents. His father, Henry ('Harry') Hunter Tooley, served in the RAF and took part in the Jarrow march before he left the North East for good and headed down to London, where he was a glazier. His mother, Josephine Tooley née Patterson, fondly known as 'Jessie', clearly had a strong influence on her son's character; he frequently referred to her outspoken views and her devotion to hard work. Tooley began his education in East Ham, and then he and his mother were evacuated to Falmouth, where he attended Falmouth Grammar School. They returned to London after the war, and Tooley returned to East Ham Grammar School. He entered King's College Hospital Medical School in 1948. He was the recipient of the Hancock prize in 1952, and the senior scholarship medal, and qualified in 1953.

He quickly gained his membership of the Royal College of Surgeons and in a remarkably short time thereafter, in 1957, he proceeded to the fellowship. During the formative years of his surgical training at King's and Hammersmith he came under the influence of a number of outstanding teachers, including Sir Cecil Wakeley, Sir Edwin Muir and Ian Aird.

In 1954 he joined the Royal Navy as a surgeon lieutenant, and saw service at home and overseas, including Cyprus, Malta and Gibraltar, and in the Arab-Israeli conflicts. During his naval service he worked with another illustrious surgeon, Sir James Watt. He left the Navy in 1968 with the rank of surgeon commander.

On re-entering the National Health Service in 1968 he was appointed as a consultant general surgeon to North Ormesby Hospital, Middlesbrough, in the South Tees area. Here he was a leading figure in the development of surgical services, where no fewer than 16 widely scattered hospitals, many of them very small and offering an inevitably restricted range of services, were amalgamated into what is now the James Cook University Hospital, one of the largest and most successful sub-regional centres in England.

He was a College regional adviser, and served on the regional training committee. As such he strenuously campaigned for the status of district general hospital surgeons in the regional training programme. He was prominent in the affairs of the College. He was a member of the Court of Examiners, becoming a senior member, in which role he was noted for taking care to ensure that new members of the Court were properly supported until they gained experience. He was a member of the hospital accreditation committee.

He was a fellow of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, and a member of the British Society of Gastroenterology. He was appointed an honorary fellow of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, in recognition of his role as an examiner there.

He worked hard to maintain the status of the North of England Surgical Society as the principal extramural forum for all the region's surgeons; he was elected president of the Society in 1987. He was invited to join the Hadrian Surgical Club, and was a staunch supporter of this group of like-minded northern surgeons.

He was a general surgeon of the old school, able to turn his hand to most clinical surgical problems with confidence and skill. He was particularly interested in vascular surgery. He was hard working, and innovative. He expected others to adhere to his high standards, and was fiercely critical of laziness and lack of integrity in anyone he encountered during his working day. He could be tough, but was a loyal colleague if you were able to satisfy him that you held to his own high principles.

In his youth he had enjoyed playing rugby, cycling and walking; he was fit and athletic. In retirement, in addition to relaxing with wood-turning and the Telegraph crossword, he kept up his professional contacts, carried out medico-legal work, and enjoyed the company of family and friends, whom he regaled with his apparently never-ending supply of humorous anecdotes, which lost nothing in the re-telling. His skill as a humorous raconteur was second to none; he was especially fond of mimicking regional dialects, never in a denigrating way, but rather to celebrate the diversity within the English language, which he treasured in all its oral and literary manifestations.

He loved a session of reminiscence with his old surgical pals, who would join with him in extolling the past pleasures of surgical practice and deploringthe deterioration in the levels of commitment and enjoyment that current practitioners of the surgeon's art and craft were condemned to endure. However, despite these misgivings, he never failed to recognise true surgical innovation, and followed with fascination the development of endoscopic and radiological advances, which he saw as enhancements to the surgeons' repertoire.

Alan Tooley was married twice. Both marriages were dissolved in the late seventies and eighties. He was survived by his children from his first marriage, to Mary Aitken, twin daughters Fiona and Elizabeth, and by a son, Timothy, and a grand-daughter, Vanessa. He died in Portsmouth on 11 November 2012, aged 82.

He was a man of great stature, in terms not only of his physique, but also of his personality. He was a first class surgeon, a loyal and supportive colleague, and a great friend. He will be missed for his many attributes, not least his sense of humour.

R W Thomson

Sources used to compile this entry: [Fiona Tooley; Elizabeth Aitken; Vanessa Bradley; John S Ager; Josephine Littleton; D Kenward; M Kenward].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England