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Biographical entry Rawlinson, James Keith McClure (1923 - 2014)

MB BCh Liverpool 1947; FRCS 1951; ChM 1960.

1 August 1923
12 March 2014
General surgeon and Urological surgeon


Keith Rawlinson was a general surgeon with an interest in urology at Walton Hospital, Liverpool. He was born on 1 August 1923, the second son of James Herbert Rawlinson (always known as 'Rawli'), a pre-NHS surgeon who practised at the Liverpool Northern Hospital, and Mabel Rawlinson née McClure, a nurse. His mother died in 1930 when Keith was just seven, and he and his older brother were cared for by an aunt until Rawli remarried in 1938. His stepmother, the widow of a family friend, Henry Roberts, became known as 'Granny' George in the family. Keith's brother, J Geoffrey Rawlinson, worked in the chemical industry after serving in the Army during the Second World War, and then spent 25 years as a management consultant. The two brothers were close and in their younger days went on holidays together, fell walking and exploring the Lake District.

Keith developed Perthes' disease of the hip in his early years: this was treated with bed rest and he was put in a frame. Although the osteochondritis settled down, he was left with a permanent and characteristic limp, and in adult life tended to use a stick. After preparatory school at Braeside, Hoylake, he went to Oundle School for his secondary education. Here he had a good academic record, winning several form prizes and an award for shooting. Other competitive sports and subsequent Armed forces enrolment were clearly out of the question in view of his previous hip disease. He entered Liverpool University for his medical training and served in the Home Guard whilst studying. He saw plenty of action during the wartime raids on Liverpool when incendiary devices were dropped on West Kirby and other areas. Medical students also cared for the returning wounded soldiers as part of their routine clinical experience.

He qualified in 1947 and house appointments followed in the Liverpool area. His first house surgeon post was with Philip Reginald Hawe at the David Lewis Northern Hospital, who had a reputation as a good general and paediatric surgeon, and was a fine teacher. A house physician post to Leslie Cunningham followed, again at the Northern Hospital. Keith may have contemplated a career in orthopaedics, as he proceeded to an orthopaedic house surgeon post with E N Wardle for a year, and was upgraded to junior registrar. However, general surgery beckoned, and he returned to work with Hawe for two years as his registrar. By then his chief had developed a specialist interest in head and neck surgery, and thyroid diseases in particular. Keith was given three months' study leave to attend fellowship courses in London, including one at St Bartholomew's Hospital. During this time he passed the FRCS. He was now in a position to gain more general experience, this time with A Rose at the Royal Southern Hospital in Liverpool from October 1952 to September 1953, and then for two years up to March 1957 with J B Oldham, another excellent clinical teacher. His new chief was a perfectionist who ran an excellent unit, but could be outspoken at times.

Keith's higher surgical training at senior registrar level was supervised by Charles Wells. Trainee and trainer were both born in Liverpool, and educated there as undergraduates. Wells was appointed to the Royal Southern Hospital as a general surgeon with interests in urology, inflammatory bowel disease and gastric surgery. He built up a large practice in the NHS and in private work and had an enormous capacity for hard work. Expecting his trainees to develop the same ethos, by the time Keith joined him Wells had already assumed full-time academic professorial status, and was attracting many able young trainee surgeons from all over the United Kingdom and from overseas. A hard taskmaster, he encouraged Keith in his research work for his masters degree, which he wrote up as 'Intestinal motility in the post-operative period'.

Pending gaining a permanent consultant post, Wells encouraged Keith to undertake locum consultant positions. One of these was in 1958 on the Isle of Man: here he gained notoriety for saving the life of a motorcyclist who had been involved in a serious accident during the TT race and needed emergency neurosurgery. The following year, he worked in a more sedate post at Musgove Park Hospital, Taunton, for six months.

In 1960 he was appointed as a general surgeon with an interest in urology to Walton Hospital, Liverpool: after 12 years he switched to practise pure urology and, initially with Norman Gibbon, ran the urology services at Walton for 17 years. He was very interested in urodynamic studies and explored the place of self-hypnosis in the management of urge incontinence. He engaged in private practice from Rodney Street, Liverpool, and operated from Park House with his friend and anaesthetist, Tom Forrest.

Keith was a member of the Liverpool Medical Institution, being its secretary for a few years and becoming a life member in 1993. He and his wife enjoyed membership of the Grey Turner Travelling Surgical Club from 1963 to 2000, and he was the 'chronicler' of its travels at home and abroad for almost 20 years. He played an active part in the Innominate Club of Liverpool, founded in the 1930s as a dining/debating club for medical practitioners. Usually meeting each month in the winter, members gave talks to each other on non-medical subjects: some of Keith's subjects were on 'time', 'watch this space', 'Iona' and 17th century Swedish warships and astronomy. All these topics indicate that Keith was widely read: he felt it was important to find time during the day to pause and reflect on something outside oneself. He was a committed Christian, but questioning of matters relating to his personal faith.

Family life was important to him. He met Griselda Carlisle, his future wife, at her 21st birthday party in August 1951. She was the youngest daughter of Henry Carlisle, a general practitioner, and was a talented pianist. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music, taught in London and performed. They were married on 23 May 1954 at St Peter's Church, Heswall. Griselda gave occasional recitals and accompanied soloists in their early married life, but her professional life really took off again in the mid-1970s, once the family was established at school and university. She accompanied choral groups, and taught in schools and at Liverpool University.

Keith and Griselda had three children, Nigel, Iain and Fiona. Nigel trained in surgery and was later ordained as a minister. Iain qualified as a lawyer and has worked in banking and as a company and charity director. Fiona trained as a GP and then became a consultant in palliative medicine.

In spite of his hip disability, Keith became a member of the Caldy Golf Club, having been a member of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club as a boy, when he played with his father. He was an active member of Clwyd Anglers, and fished there most Wednesdays on his afternoon off work. He enjoyed trout fishing, and tied his own flies. In Scotland, Keith and Griselda fished on the Dee, but their main fishing was on the Polly River. Since the end of the First World War, Griselda's father had taken a month's holiday every year at Inverpolly Lodge and the extended family carried on this tradition up until 2013. A caravan also allowed the Rawlinson family weekend breaks away from the pressures of medical life.

Keith enjoyed creating things, including the setting up a hydroponic system in his greenhouse to water lettuces and tomatoes. He made radio-controlled cars, boats and, rather ambitiously, an aeroplane. He built a dinghy in the glass house at home for the family to enjoy.

Fond of classical music, Keith was a regular attender at Royal Philharmonic concerts. He played the organ at home: it had two manuals with a full pedal board. As the children learned to play recorders, not to be outdone, he joined them. When he started a new instrument he would take lessons and practise seriously. He was fond of his MGB sports cars, but rarely exceeded the speed limit.

The evening meal was often delayed as Keith was frequently late back from work. Meals taken together were always dynamic times as conversation flowed back and forth. Griselda was always the rock underpinning and building 'Glenburn' in Heswall, Merseyside, their permanent home. This was the house to which the family returned, came for sanctuary, brought friends and partners, and in which life decisions were made.

Keith retired in 1989, but was invited back to help with 'waiting list initiatives'. He continued to read the BMJ, quizzing his medical children on articles before they had time to read them! Keith and Griselda found more time to travel together. They toured New Zealand in 1992 and Canada and the Rockies in 1994 in a campervan, and they were able to visit their son Iain when he was living in South Africa. Keith continued exercising daily in the hope of staying as mobile as possible, and took up golf again, but he needed artificial joint replacements to both hips and both knees. He continued to be mentally agile and stimulation came from playing bridge. In later years, he tackled the intricacies of technology, learning to use Skype and latterly an iPad. As his general health began to deteriorate, adaptations were made within the house: inevitably with the 'Keith Rawlinson' touch of creativity.

Keith Rawlinson died peacefully with his family present at his home on 12 March, 2014 aged 90. He was survived by his wife of 59 years, Griselda, his children Nigel, Iain and Fiona and his grandchildren Claire, Anna-Fleur, Sam, Adam, Tom and Kitty. Keith's passion for learning, his interest in life and his ability to extract the very most out of each day will be remembered by all who knew him.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2014 349 4200; Rev Nigel Rawlinson - eulogy; Fiona Johansen].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England