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Biographical entry McMullen, Hugh Lister (1917 - 2014)

MRCS LRCP 1941; FRCS 1943.

13 February 1917
22 January 2014
Orthopaedic surgeon


Hugh Lister McMullen was a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Doncaster Gate Hospital, Rotherham, and Victoria Hospital, Worksop. He was born in London on 13 February 1917, the youngest of the four children of William Halliburton McMullen and Kate Constance McMullen née Higgins. Hugh was named after the great pioneer of antiseptic surgery, Joseph Lister, who taught and mentored his father, William, who went on to become a consultant ophthalmic surgeon. In later life Hugh became the proud owner of a signed portrait of Joseph Lister, a prize given to his father from the great man himself. There were other medical antecedents in the family: Hugh's grandfather, also William Halliburton McMullen, was a general practitioner, and his grandfather's cousin, William Dobinson Halliburton, was a renowned physiologist and biochemist, and author of Halliburton's handbook of physiology.

Hugh was educated at Lexden House in Eastbourne and Oundle School in Northamptonshire. He then went to King's College, Cambridge, where he studied natural sciences, and moved on to his clinical studies at Middlesex Hospital, London, where he was awarded the first Broderip scholarship as the best final year student.

After qualifying, Hugh became a house surgeon then a surgical registrar at Middlesex Hospital, where he worked under the tutelage, amongst others, of David Patey. Working in central London during the Second World War must have inevitably concentrated his experience on surgical trauma and orthopaedics, which is where he found his great passion. Having a lifelong interest in mathematics, material science and engineering, he was fascinated by the mechanical as well as the clinical aspects of orthopaedics.

In 1947 Hugh was called up to military service as a major in the RAMC on the north-west frontier region of what was then still British India. He developed a tremendous respect for all the people of that region. He talked fondly of entertaining Hindus, Muslims and Afghan tribesman at the officers' table, but having to take care to dispatch the different parties individually for fear of ambush and even murder on the journey home! When asked many years later what he felt of the West's invasion of Afghanistan, his only comment was 'well nobody will win over the Afghans, you only have to look at history to know that'. He related many periods of tranquillity in India, where he entertained himself by reading and re-reading the complete works of Shakespeare and honing his bridge skills, a hobby he returned to in his latter years. He lived on the north-west frontier throughout the partition of India and Pakistan, only being released when 'the last Hindu had been evacuated safely'. He always felt his time in this region helped him in subsequent years to develop a particular bond with trainees and colleagues from other countries and cultures.

He returned to England in 1949, at a time when many former Army medical officers were returning home and competition for jobs was fierce. He became an orthopaedic registrar in Mansfield, working under the supervision of E A Nicoll and then, in 1951, was appointed as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon for Doncaster Gate Hospital, Rotherham, and Victoria Hospital, Worksop, with out-patient sessions at the Retford Fracture Clinic and King Edward VII Hospital, Sheffield.

Working cross-site and single-handedly for many years (until a second consultant colleague was appointed to Worksop in 1980), in the days of mining accidents, tuberculous joints, polio survivors and in close proximity to the newly opened M1 motorway, long before the days of seat belts, crash helmets or accident and emergency consultants, he remained understandably sceptical of the need for sub-specialisation. Being on call every night for 29 years inevitably restricted his published contributions to orthopaedics, but he remained an early and lifelong supporter of the local Holdsworth club, an orthopaedic surgeons' club, and the British Orthopaedic Association, which Hugh enthusiastically continued to attend well into his retirement and into his late eighties. He was regarded as an astute and gentle colleague, not at all typical of the stereotypical bombastic or impetuous surgeon.

Beyond his profession, he was extremely knowledgeable in many fields. He maintained a particular interest in maths (he was a keen proponent of the decimal calendar, for instance), as well as history, geography, literature, classical music, together with his favorite specialist subject of all: the national railway timetable. He was one of the longest surviving pre-war graduates of King's College, Cambridge, which he continued to visit and support with pride throughout his life.

In personality, he was essentially a quiet man, more inclined to listen than to speak out, and much wiser than average as a result. Whilst not inclined to lead the conversation around the dinner table, he could invariably fill the gaps in the company's knowledge on a wide variety of topics - often adding the modest qualifier that he was 'a mine of useless information'.

He met his wife, Dolores Wyatt Tilby (known as 'Joy'), a nurse, on the wards of Middlesex Hospital and they married at All Saints, Margaret Street, in April 1945. They had three children, Barbara, David and Wendy. He was quietly proud that Barbara qualified as a Middlesex nurse, and then David and later Wendy passed their FRCS exams to become the fourth generation of doctors and the third generation of surgeons in the family.

After retirement Hugh moved with Joy to Frinton-on-Sea, the place of her birth and many happy memories for Joy. Although he may have initially found the pace of life quiet, he made many new friends, continued to support the local orthopaedic society (in Black Notley) and indulged his love of classical music by attending concerts in Essex and London. He was a great supporter of young musicians and was often to be found at the Proms, in latter years, enthusiastically drumming his walking stick on the floor to call for an encore.

After Joy died in 1996, he resolutely maintained his independence, continuing to travel on ambitious holidays, as well as to visit his family, now dispersed between Sussex, the Isle of Wight and Scotland. He delighted in the company of all his children and grandchildren who visited him regularly in Frinton, where the family beach hut was essentially maintained for their benefit. In his final years he moved close to his daughter Barbara, but stayed determinedly independent in his own flat until his final few days.

Hugh Lister McMullen died on 22 January 2014, aged 96. He was survived by his three children, seven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. His family, colleagues and patients all remember him as a thoughtful, perceptive, wise and generous man who was proud to devote his life to the good of his patients and his family.

Wendy Norman

The Royal College of Surgeons of England