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Biographical entry Romanis, William Hugh Cowie (1889 - 1972)

MRCS 1914; FRCS 1915; MA MB Cambridge 1916; MCh 1917; LRCP 1914; JP; Barrister-at-Law; FRCS Edinburgh; C St J.

8 November 1889
25 January 1972
General surgeon, Lawyer and Thoracic surgeon


Born at Godalming on 8 November 1889, the elder son of the Rev William Francis Romanis, Preacher of the Charterhouse, and Annie Ellen Cowie, he was educated at Charterhouse where he was a scholar and became head of the school. Going up to Trinity College, Cambridge as a mathematical scholar he obtained a first class in part I of the Mathematical Tripos, followed by a first class in part I of the Natural Sciences Tripos in 1911. Becoming interested in medicine he proceeded to St Thomas's Hospital for his clinical studies, qualifying with the Conjoint Diploma in 1914. Before qualification he obtained medicine and surgery prizes in 1913 and, after qualification, was appointed house surgeon for six months followed by six months as a casualty officer, after which he was gazetted in the RAMC. He served in France at No 6 and No 44 Casualty Clearing Stations, returning before the end of the war to take up the post of surgical registrar - at the time there was only one - to be followed by that of resident assistant surgeon at St Thomas's which by that time was desperately short of surgical manpower.

In 1919 at the age of 30 he was elected to the consultant staff and by his outstanding ability rapidly built up an ever widening consulting practice embracing many smaller, peripheral hospitals, in particular Wrotham, Sevenoaks, Woking, Kingston, Wimbledon, St Anthony's Cheam and Okehampton. He succeeded Morriston Davies as consulting surgeon at the City of London Hospital for Diseases of the Heart and Lungs in Victoria Park and was one of the early pioneers in thoracic surgery. A man of remarkable intellectual capacity, he was also a dextrous and rapid operator and was one of the first to undertake the surgical treatment of exophthalmic goitre, at that time only possible under twilight sleep and local anaesthesia.

A popular teacher with a ready wit, he was much sought after as an examiner. He was a member of the Court of Examiners of the College and also acted for the Universities of Cambridge, London and Glasgow. At one time he was a surgeon to the Tooting Neurological Hospital and was a Fellow of the Association of Neurological Surgeons, having for a period been associated with Sir Percy Sargent at St Thomas's. He collaborated with P H Mitchiner in a highly successful textbook of surgery and was the author of numerous surgical papers. Legal processes had always fascinated him and he was a JP and chairman of the bench at Godalming for many years. To increase his legal status he was called to the Bar in 1954 at the age of 64, in which year he retired from the staff of St Thomas's.

His interests were wide outside the field of surgery. At one time he was county surgeon of Surrey in the St John Ambulance Brigade. An eminent Freemason, he attained high rank and was active in the interests of the craft, particularly the Masonic Hospital. An early and enthusiastic motorist, "Hugo" as he was always known at St Thomas's, was driving sports cars at a time when they were few in number and hard to come by. He was also a model railway enthusiast, maintaining an extensive and highly efficient railway in the garden of his country home.

He married in 1916 Dorothy Elizabeth daughter of Rev Canon Robert Burnett, Chancellor of Ferns Cathedral, Co Wexford and they had one son, a medical practitioner, and two daughters. He died at his house in Godalming on 25 January 1972 aged 82 survived by his widow, son and a married daughter.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 28 January 1972;Brit med J 1972, 1, 382;Lancet 1972, 1, 330].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England