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Biographical entry Stabler, Francis Edward (1902 - 1967)

VRD 1942; MRCS and FRCS 1929; MB BS 1925; MD 1928; FRCOG 1945.

23 September 1902
13 October 1967
General surgeon and Obstetrician and gynaecologist


Francis Edward Stabler was born in Darlington on 23 September 1902, the son of the headmaster of a school in the town, and received his education at the Darlington Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, and the University of Durham College of Medicine, where he graduated Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery in June 1925.

At the medical school, Frank, as he was always called, was an assiduous student. Most of his spare hours were spent out of doors, shooting, fishing and exploring the coastline and moors of Northumberland. Good at all things which interested him, such was his prowess as a wildfowler that he became a well-known authority on the sport as well as a very knowledgeable ornithologist.

After graduation, Frank was in the "House" for 15 months at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, where he was successively house physician to dermatology under Sir Robert Bolam, house surgeon to Professor Brunton Angus and house surgeon to gynaecology under Professor Rankin Lyle; in 1927 he was for a year temporary medical registrar. In May 1928 he was launched into his specialist life when he was appointed honorary gynaecological and obstetrical registrar at the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital. No doubt Frank's appointment as house surgeon to the gynaecological department pointed the way to his specialisation in that subject, for in 1928 he was awarded a gold medal for his MD thesis, having chosen as his subject the lead treatment of cancer which was being popularised in Liverpool at that time.

There were eight strenuous years as registrar. In 1929 he became an English FRCS and in 1931 Durham University appointed him a clinical teacher. Somehow time was found during those very busy years to write numerous articles in scientific journals and to hold office in various societies. He became a most dexterous surgeon and able diagnostician. He was a popular teacher of both medical and nursing students. In 1935 he was one of the original small team of obstetricians who introduced and operated the Newcastle Emergency Obstetric Service - the "Flying Squad". Its success in the early stages was in large measure due to his energy and efficiency. Six of the first twelve cases were answered by him and his active interest continued until his last four or five years when for physical reasons he had to curtail many of his activities. He always argued that a senior obstetrician, with a consultant anaesthetist and an experienced nurse, should take these calls, and that the aim should be to deal with the patient in her own home and not bring her back to hospital. Over the years Frank Stabler acquired a considerable private practice but he never shirked his hospital responsibilities. Before the outbreak of the war in 1939 he had been made honorary assistant gynaecologist to the Royal Victoria Infirmary and honorary assistant obstetrician to the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital.

From 1926 Frank was an active officer in the Tyne Division of the RNVR, and in September 1939, as a Surgeon-Commander, he left home, his practice and his hospital for more than six years of active service, during which time he did a vast amount of general surgical work. From September 1939 to February 1942 he was at Chatham Naval Hospital. During that time he gave a series of lectures at the Postgraduate Hospital at Hammersmith based on war casualties received during the evacuation of the BEF from Belgium and France. From March 1942 to January 1945 he was surgical specialist at the RN Auxiliary Hospital, Sherbome, Dorset, and from January 1945 for one year he was in charge of the surgical division of the RN Auxiliary Hospital at Trincomalee in Ceylon. In 1942 he received the Volunteer Reserve Decoration, and during his time in Ceylon he had been promoted to full honorary status at his teaching hospitals at home and had also been elected to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

On return to Newcastle after the war Frank, as before, was fully occupied with his hospital and private work, but somehow he found time for various societies and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. He was a most active member and one time President of the North of England Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society and for six years he was a Council Member of his College. From 1953, in addition to hospital work in Newcastle, Frank was visiting consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology to the South East Northumberland Group of Hospitals and for several years chairman of their local Medical Advisory and Staff Committee.

With all this work there was time to fish, shoot, learn needlework and collect books, mow the lawn and cut the hedge. At all times of the day or night in addition, there were hurried journeys answering emergency calls, generally in his sports car. There can be few occupations so exacting as that of a consulting obstetrician, certainly few where there are so many night calls.

As time passed the night journeyings became less frequent. About 1958 a chronic back complaint, developing insidiously, caused a gradual lessening of tempo. First, the appointment as visiting consultant to the South East Northumberland was relinquished. Also about that time the Emergency Flying Squad had to be manned without him. As his physical activities were curtailed his restless mind turned to other less exacting pursuits. Always interested in tapestry work he gave more and more time to it and to his collection of ornithological works. He frequently visited his cottage in Swaledale in Yorkshire. He continued to fish the waters of the Tyne or Colt Crag reservoir and he derived considerable satisfaction from his work as chairman of the Northumberland and Durham Wildfowlers Association and chairman of the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve.

Within a year of his death Frank had exhibited at the Seldon Tapestries Exhibition in London and on retirement from hospital work, on his sixty-fifth birthday, some three weeks before his end, eighteen gynaecological friends in the North East gave a dinner in his honour and presented him with a needlework panel specially designed by the Royal School of Needlework. The motif was birds on the Farne Islands and he much appreciated this farewell gift which combined several of his intersts. To the last Frank continued his love of driving fast cars. Perhaps he was challenging the fates to limit his activities already threatened by his ill-health. This sense of challenging the world was manifest to the day of his death: he had been in Southport at a nurses' examination and prize-giving and had a tiring journey home with minor car trouble on the way, and, a few hours later, on Friday 13 October 1967, came the coronary thrombosis for which he had prepared himself over the past five years or more. He was survived by his wife, daughter and two sons.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1967, 4, 240 by WH; Lancet 1967, 2, 898 with portrait and appreciation by IKR; Shooting Times and Country Magazine 28 October 1967].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England