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Biographical entry Oates, Geoffrey Donald (1929 - 2013)

BSc Birmingham 1950; MB ChB 1953; FRCS 1959; MSc Illinois 1965.

16 May 1929
Wolsingham, County Durham
2 November 2013
General surgeon


Geoff Oates was a general surgeon in Birmingham with a special interest in oncology. He was born in Wolsingham, county Durham, on 16 May 1929, the son of Thomas Oates, a headmaster, and Dorothy Verne Oates née Jones, a schoolteacher. He subsequently received the academic and sporting education characteristic of northern grammar schools of those days, at Wolsingham Grammar School. His time there was crowned by a state scholarship.

His high aspirations in both academic and sporting arenas developed further during his time as a student at Birmingham University. He had the good fortune to work with Sir Solly Zuckerman and Sir Peter Medawar, during studies for an intercalated BSc, for which he gained first class honours. In 1952 he was awarded the Queen's scholarship prize for highest all round marks in part one of the final MB exam. He qualified MB ChB in 1953.

He remained in Birmingham, as a house physician, a house surgeon and a demonstrator in the anatomy department. During this time he had interactions with many of the doyens of post war British surgery in the Midlands, including Jack Leigh Collis, Pom d'Abreu and Bryan Brooke, who kindled his interest in colorectal surgery, and helped lay the foundations that ultimately led to him becoming a surgical leader both locally, nationally and internationally, especially in the fields of breast and colorectal surgery.

In 1955 he commenced National Service in the RAMC, which continued until 1957. During this time he attained the rank of captain. Service took him to Korea and Japan, where he contracted tuberculosis. This was successfully treated with streptomycin, which led to a high frequency hearing loss, which he typically used to his advantage.

On his return to civilian life, he continued with his surgical training in Birmingham, with posts at Birmingham General Hospital, Birmingham Children's Hospital, and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. An interest in surgical oncology was soon sparked by some of the notable surgeons with whom he trained. From 1962 to 1966 he was a senior registrar on the west Midlands training programme. This included a year in Chicago working with Warren H Cole, on a Fulbright scholarship and a clinical fellowship of the American Cancer Society. Here, through a combination of clinical and research training, his endeavours led to him being awarded an MSc in surgery from the University of Illinois. He was able to appreciate first hand the value of the multidisciplinary management of malignant disease, a concept not practised in Britain. This realisation of the inadequacies of many treatment regimens led him to be pivotal in bringing fellow surgeons, and others involved in cancer management, to work together not only in hospitals but also in their professional societies. With Geoff's encouragement the section of oncology of the Royal Society of Medicine, and the British Association of Surgical Oncology were founded, both reflecting his major interest in breast cancer.

His other major interest, namely in the management of colorectal disease, led him, together with a band of close professional colleagues, to establish the Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland. When the organisation came to fruition it was unanimously agreed that he should be the founding president.

Geoff, who had been appointed as a consultant surgeon to the United Birmingham Hospitals in 1966, continued to practice surgery until his retirement, all the time trying his best to cope with the management re-arrangements of hospital services in Birmingham. These led, in 1993, to the closure to acute services at the much-loved Birmingham General Hospital, which had played so big a part in the development of surgical gastroenterology in the UK, and the transfer of services to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. During his years as a consultant at Birmingham he was a successful chairman of the division of surgery for two three-year periods.

Geoff's proudest clinical achievement was his independently audited series of sequential cases of colorectal anastomosis. This stretched from the time he helped pioneer circular stapling in 1978, until ceasing operative surgery in 1999, at the age of 70 years. During this entire period there was not a single leak!

Underlying his outstanding career was his meticulous approach to patient care, surgical research and record keeping. The latter is reflected in his detailed CV, now held in the College archives. This fully demonstrates the extent of his endeavours and achievements, and outlines the principal areas in which he contributed to his profession.

This account of his life cannot finish without brief reference to Geoff's many sporting achievements, particularly in football. He was 'scouted' for a trial for Newcastle, then a First Division club, but his father, whom he never forgave, opposed this career change! In his student days he not only obtained a blue, but also captained the university football team. He subsequently travelled weekly to London to play in goal for Corinthian Casuals FC, a club of which he was a member between 1951 and 1994. His football career was cut short by a fractured scaphoid, whilst playing for the Army Amateur XI and, of no further use, he was promptly shipped abroad!

Geoff's first wife Mollie Parfitt née Edwards, a geography graduate and subsequently a medical social worker, with whom he had two children, died in 1971. In 1973 he married Elizabeth Anne ('Liz'), a nursing sister. In March 2010 Geoff and Liz moved to Verbier in Switzerland, where they lived in the same building as his Swiss surgical colleague Jean-Claude Givel, a long-time friend and co-author of many publications.

Geoff died suddenly and painlessly, aged 84, on 2 November 2013, walking downhill whilst enroute from his home in Verbier to England to attend a surgical meeting. He was survived by his wife Liz, his son John, a consultant ENT surgeon, daughter Sue, and two grandchildren, Polly and Henry.

Sir Miles Irving

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Association of Coloproctology of Great Britain and Ireland Announcements Geoff Oates 1929-2013 - accessed 5 March 2014].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England