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Biographical entry Wilson, William Weatherston (1915 - 2013)

MRCS LRCP 1938; MB ChB Manchester 1938; FRCS 1947; ChM 1953.

Born
13 March 1915
Bonhill, West Dunbartonshire
Died
23 May 2013
Chorley, Lancashire
Occupation
General surgeon

Details

William Weatherston Wilson, known as 'Bill', was a highly-respected general surgeon who spent his entire consultant career in Lancashire. He was first appointed as an assistant surgeon at the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, Wigan, in July 1949; he was then 'upgraded' in February 1950 to consultant surgeon to the Wigan and Leigh Group and Wrightington Hospital on a salary of £1,684-1s-10p per annum, the norm for consultants appointed in the early years of the NHS as maximum-part-time employees. Described as having a sharp eye and ready wit, he was popular with patients from all social backgrounds.

The son of William Weatherston Wilson, an industrial chemist, and Mary Wilson née Hobson, a housewife, he was born on 13 March 1915 at Bonhill, a small town situated in the Vale of Leven, West Dunbartonshire. He had two sisters, Mary Conway Berry and Rebecca Weatherston Wilson. His step-mother was Mabel Gertrude Wilson.

After boarding at Scarborough College from 1928 to 1932, he decided to embark on a career in medicine and entered Manchester University to pursue his studies. Here he was greatly influenced by John Sebastian Bach Stopford (later Lord Stopford of Fallowfield), his anatomy professor. Perhaps not as academic as some of his contemporaries, having won no prizes, he was captain of the University Athletics Club and was shot-putter for the English Universities Athletic Union. After qualifying in 1938 with a MB ChB and the conjoint diploma, he held house appointments at Manchester Royal Infirmary and Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham.

In 1939, at the beginning of the Second World War, Bill volunteered to join the RAMC and served as a captain for six years. Working in the Middle East as a graded surgeon, in 1942 he was ordered to Amman, Transjordan, to take charge of the Italian Mission Hospital at very short notice. He discovered that the Italian missionary surgeon, who was in charge of the hospital, had been telephoning Rome daily about British troop movements. As he was the only doctor in the hospital, Bill performed all the surgical operations, as well as being the administrator. He could only blame himself for any poor anaesthetics, as he had to administer them all. His repertoire was all-inclusive: he dealt with numerous skull fractures, brain abscesses and hysterectomies, cholecystectomies and mastoidectomies, in addition to the common hernias in all anatomical sites.

Returning from Egypt to Manchester, he passed the primary FRCS in 1946 and the final examination the following year, proceeding to the ChM in 1953. His first post in civilian life was as a supernumerary chief assistant in general surgery at Manchester Royal infirmary for two years from May 1946. After this, he worked for a further year as chief assistant at the Christie Hospital. He then gained his first consultant post in Wigan at the age of 34.

In addition to his busy clinical life, he had an early baptism into administration, serving for six years on the hospital management committee. He was also active in the Wigan branch of the BMA. A great supporter of postgraduate activities, he was secretary of the Manchester Surgical Society for five years and became president in 1951. He was a founder member of the Wigan and Leigh Medical Society, a weekly meeting point for hospital doctors and general practitioners. He was also an active member of the flourishing Manchester Medical Society, founded in 1834. He became president of the section of surgery in 1971 and delivered his presidential address on 'Quis lapidem posuit: a speculation on gallstones'. He was elected an honorary member of the section of surgery in 2009, at the meeting celebrating 175 years of the foundation of the society.

In spite of a busy professional life, he still found time to analyse the results of his surgery in a critical manner and published worthwhile articles. His early publications were case reports, such as 'Adenomatoid leiomyoma of the epididymis' in the British Journal of Surgery (Br J Surg. 1949 Oct;37[146]:240). His first article resulted from his observations during the war. 'Hepatic hydatid disease' was published in the British Journal of Surgery (Br J Surg. 1950 Apr;37[148]:453-63); the paper reviewed the natural history of the disease and described his observations in the public abattoir in Amman, where some 12 per cent of slaughtered sheep were infested with hydatid cysts.

As an established consultant surgeon, he wrote 'Thyroid disease and some complications' in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons (Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 1973 Jul;53[1]:27-39. Another paper, 'Revision operations after primary gastric surgery', was also published in the Annals (Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 1982 Jul;64[4]:225-8). In this he discussed his experience over 31 years as a single surgeon working in a district general hospital of 179 reoperations after primary gastric surgery failed to relieve symptoms of duodenal ulcer.

He served the College as a member of the Court of Examiners from 1970 to 1982, six years in general surgery and another six years in ophthalmology. He was external examiner in surgery abroad in Basra, Lagos, Tripoli, Juba, as well as at home in Edinburgh and Glasgow. All this extra service from a provincial centre was something to be admired, as was his election to the National Distinction Awards Committee, of which there were 20 members in total and only three surgeons. He served on the committee from 1978 to 1981. One honour he prized above all others was his election to the 1921 Travelling Surgical Club and serving as its president in 1972 - a mark of fellow members' esteem.

All was not work in Wigan! Bill was a regular skier in alpine resorts, a keen fly fisherman and golfer. He was a member of his local Wigan golf club for 51 years, but was more active in the game after retirement. As a knowledgeable fisherman, he was a member of Wynesdale Fishing Club for half a century. Brown and rainbow trout in one of the lakes in the Peak District of Derbyshire rose to his expectations from time to time. He was a member of the Army and Navy Club, Pall Mall, London.

Bill met his future wife, Ruth Audrey née Ainsworth (aka 'Jane') at Manchester University Medical School after he returned from the Second World War. Jane became a paediatrician and family planning expert. She and Bill had three sons, all having 'Weatherston' attached to the surname Wilson: Angus William, Gerald William and Adam Charles. In a note attached to his CV, Bill wrote of his wife: 'Charming wife Jane who is a paediatrician but also an outstanding cook who entertained many surgeons from at home and abroad at her dinner parties.'

Unexpected tragedy struck the Wilson household when their eldest son, Angus, was maimed in a road traffic accident in 1984. He died in 2013, after 29 years as an invalid. This must have been a severe problem for Bill and Jane to face in their retirement years, and also for their two remaining sons, Gerald and Adam.

During his last few years, Bill and Jane continued to live in the large family house at Charnock Green until late 2011, when he had a minor stroke and his wife also became unwell. Their sons converted the house to make it suitable for 'nursing home' purposes, with the provision of carers as their needs increased.

William Weatherston Wilson died on 23 May 2013 at his home in Chorley, Lancashire, at the age of 98. He was survived by his wife Jane and his two remaining sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Sadly, Jane died just a year later, on 5 June 2014.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Manchester Medical Society www.mms.org.uk/home.htm - accessed 23 August 2014; Gerald W Wilson].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England