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Biographical entry Passe, Edward Roland Garnett (1904 - 1952)

MRCS 9 May 1929; FRCS 11 June 1936; LDS BDSc Melbourne 1926; LRCP 1929; DLO RCPS 1931; FACS 1945; VRD.

25 June 1904
Johannesburg, South Africa
1 August 1952
ENT surgeon


Born on 25 June 1904 at Johannesburg, South Africa, second son of John James Passe, an engineer, and Eleanor Jane Price his wife, his parents moved to Australia while he was a child, and he was educated at Melbourne High School and graduated in dentistry at Melbourne University in April 1926. Passe came to the London Hospital to study medicine, qualified in 1929, and took the Diploma in Laryngology and Otology in 1931. He served as house surgeon at the Central London Throat Nose and Ear Hospital, and was receiving room officer and first assistant in the aural department of the London Hospital. Here he came under the influence of Norman Patterson, Donald Wheeler, and Geoffrey Carte, whose practice among singers he largely inherited.

He built up a good practice in otolaryngology but after a visit to Gunnar Holmgren's clinic at Stockholm in 1937 he devoted himself enthusiastically to the new procedure of fenestration for otosclerosis. At Holmgren's clinic he met Julius Lempert of New York, and worked closely with him thereafter. Passe was for twenty years a keen member of the RNVR medical service, and served in it during the war of 1939-45. While stationed at Bermuda he took the opportunity of visiting Lempert's clinic in New York several times. In 1939 he reported fourteen successful fenestration operations, twelve done with Holmgren and two with Lempert; ten years later he made his "second interim report" on the results of over 500 cases. He was consulting aural surgeon to the Maida Vale Hospital, aural surgeon to the Wembley Hospital, and senior consulting aural surgeon to the King Edward Memorial Hospital at Ealing. His fundamental research was carried through in collaboration with J C Seymour in the Ferens Institute of Otolaryngology at Middlesex Hospital. By the age of 45 Passe had achieved an international reputation as a pioneer in the surgery of the labyrinth. He demonstrated his operation by invitation at Utrecht and Dublin in 1947, at Cairo in 1949, and at Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in 1951. He also described it at a special meeting of the Royal Society of Medicine in the summer of 1951.

This success led him to explore the surgical relief of other intractable diseases of the ear, such as tinnitus, nerve-deafness, and Meniere's disease. The operation which he employed at first was stellate ganglionectomy, with stripping, ligation, and division of the vertebral artery; in 1951 he substituted preganglionic section of the second and third thoracic ganglia and division of the sympathetic trunk below the third thoracic ganglion. At the annual meeting of the British Medical Association in Dublin in July 1952 he reported on 200 sympathectomies in ten years with good results for the relief of Meniere's disease. He was to have gone to Boston in November 1952 to discuss the value of sympathectomy in aural surgery with Reginald Smithwick before the New England Otolaryngological Society; the paper he prepared was read there by his widow. Immediately after the Dublin meeting he went to Cornwall for a holiday, where he also practised his skill as a sculptor in the studio of Dame Barbara Hepworth. Returning to London he died suddenly on 1 August 1952 aged 48. He had practised at 36 Weymouth Street.

Garnett Passe married in December 1939 Barbara Hope Slatter, who survived him; there were no children. He was an all-round sportsman, a leading member of the Medical Golfing Society who played frequently at Wentworth and Sunningdale, and he won the silver medal for ski-ing at Davos when he was 47. He was a short, dapper man with iron-grey hair, self-confident but modest, even-tempered and generous.

Surgical treatment of fourteen cases of otosclerosis. J Laryngol 1939, 54, 566. Fenestration operation for otosclerosis, interim report. Lancet 1947, 1, 171.
Méniere's syndrome successfully treated by surgery of the sympathetic. Brit med J 1948, 2, 812.
A second interim report on the fenestration operation. J Laryngol 1949, 63, 495. Sympathectomy in relation to Ménière's disease, nerve deafness, and tinnitus. Proc Roy Soc Med 1951, 44, 760.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Lancet 1952, 2, 343; Brit med J 1952, 2, 396 with appreciations by R Scott Stevenson and S Leonard Simpson, and 1953, 1, 341 by Leighton F Johnson of Boston; information from Mrs Garnett Passe].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England