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Biographical entry Worthington, Robert Alfred (1878 - 1945)

OBE 1919; MRCS 10 November 1904; FRCS 10 June 1909; BA Cambridge 1900; BCh 1904; MB 1905; LRCP 1904.

18 June 1878
Saltair, Yorkshire
11 July 1945
ENT surgeon and General surgeon


Born 18 June 1878 at Saltair, Yorkshire, only son, with one sister, of Arthur Mason Worthington (1852-1916), FRS, then head master of the Salt Schools, Shipley, and afterwards professor of physics successively at HM Dockyard School, Portsmouth, the Royal Naval Engineering College, Devonport, and the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and of his wife Helen, younger daughter of Professor Thomas Solly. Both his parents were accomplished artists, and R A Worthington inherited their taste and talent. He was educated at Malvern and Rugby, where he won a drawing prize, and entered Clare College, Cambridge with a mathematical scholarship in 1897, but read biology and took second-class honours in the Natural Sciences Tripos, part 1, 1900. At Cambridge he made friends with Keith Lucas, the physiologist. He entered the London Hospital in 1900, where he served as house surgeon, house surgeon to the ear, nose and throat department, and house physician; and he served as clinical assistant in the outpatients department at the East London Children's Hospital. He then became pathological assistant and assistant director at the London Hospital Institute of Pathology, serving under Dr Charles Miller and Dr H M Turnbull, and was largely responsible for the production of the two excellent volumes of Archives published by the Institute in 1906-08. He went for postgraduate study to Berlin, and there became an enthusiast for endoscopic instruments. In 1911 he was appointed surgical registrar and assistant pathologist at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, and set up as a surgical consultant at Exeter. The same year his father retired to Exmouth.

Worthington was at this time chiefly interested in sigmoidoscopy and cystoscopy, and was an excellent genito-urinary surgeon. But he was already attracted to otolaryngology, which he ultimately made his sole specialty. In 1914 he was appointed surgeon in charge of the ear, nose, and throat department at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, but through the war served as officer in charge of the 2nd Exeter General Hospital, carrying out the general surgery here while overseeing the ear, nose, and throat work throughout the district. He was created OBE for his services. After 1918 he devoted himself exclusively to otology, and became aurist to the West of England Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, and aural surgeon to Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital, Exeter, to the Victoria Hospital, Sidmouth, and to Okehampton, Ottery St Mary, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, and Bovey Tracey Cottage Hospitals, and to the Devonshire Mental Hospital. He served as a vice-president of the section of otology at the Royal Society of Medicine. Worthington had been a stammerer, but practically cured himself, and he took a keen interest in voice-production defects, writing a thesis on their connexion with respiratory spasm. He was for a time lecturer on vocal physiology at the London Academy of Music, and in 1928 joined with E T Evatts in writing on The Mechanism of Singing, a book illustrated with radiographs of his own throat.

In his first years in Devonshire Worthington's chief recreations were music and foxhunting, and he rode to hounds regularly with the Cattestock Hunt every Saturday. About 1923 at the age of 45 his latent love of painting re-awoke on his journeys by car to the meets, and there-after he never went on a professional or sporting journey without his painting equipment. "You never know" he said, "when a suitable subject for a sketch might occur, especially on Dartmoor". In 1925 he organized at Exeter an exhibition of paintings by Devonshire artists which aroused considerable interest. He was subsequently appointed a governor of Exeter Museum. Besides achieving considerable success as an artist himself, Worthington collected paintings and was particularly fond of the old English water-colourists. In the "Baedeker" air-raid on Exeter on 4 May 1942 his house was hit by incendiary bombs and was destroyed with his whole collection. He had generously given asylum to valuable pictures belonging to his London friends, and exhausted himself moving these to safety during the fire and "blitz". An exhibition of his own watercolours was held at the Fine Art Society, London, in March 1946. He never fully recovered from the effects of the shock and over-exertion of that night, and died on 11 July 1945 at Hembury Hill, Honiton, from severe cerebral haemorrhage, aged 67. Worthington was survived by his wife Evelyn, daughter of Joseph Bankart and sister of Arthur Sydney Blundell Bankart, FRCS, whom he had married on 5 October 1911 in Exeter Cathedral, and by his only daughter Margaret, a physicist and artist. Worthington was a skilful surgeon of somewhat conservative technique. He was a fairly frequent contributor to The Lancet, and in all professional contacts punctual and punctilious. A constitutional shyness made him seem brusque, but he was generous and unostentatiously kind, and was loved by his intimates for his wit and charm.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet, 1945, 2, 190, with portrait, and eulogies by Professor Hubert M Turnbull, MD, Percy Moore Turner, and Dr H A Lake; Lancet, 1946, 1, 367, memorial exhibition of his paintings; Brit med J 1945, 2, 268; Lond Hosp Gaz 1945, 48, 237, with portrait, and eulogy by Dr Turnbull; information given by Mrs Worthington].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England