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Biographical entry Barnsley, William Corbitt (1917 - 1982)

FRCS by election 1964; MB BS Newcastle upon Tyne 1940.

2 June 1982
Thoracic surgeon


William Corbitt Barnsley was educated at South Shields High School and graduated in medicine from Armstrong College, Newcastle upon Tyne, where, as an undergraduate, he won many prizes and medals. After a period at Newcastle General Hospital, where he gained general experience in surgery, he proceeded to the newly formed unit of thoracic surgery as house officer. He remained in thoracic surgery for the rest of his life, becoming consultant thoracic surgeon in 1952. He became one of the early members of the Thoracic Society and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. He was at one time President of the North of England Thoracic Society.

The volume of work that Corbitt encompassed during his 42 years in his speciality was enormous. Perhaps lung cancer and asbestosis were his prime interests, though he wrote papers on other subjects including the oesophagus. He believed in a radical approach to endothelioma of the pleura and gave many years of comfort, with some apparent cures, to patients with this appalling malady. Having a remarkable memory he could conjure up x-ray appearances of many years ago to help elucidate modern problems.

In 1977 the cardiothoracic surgical service was transferred to the new, superbly equipped Freeman Hospital. Corbitt left Shotley regretfully as his life's work had been there. He continued his unstinting service, however, and was in administrative charge of the augmented unit from 1980. Staff remembered him for his dry, impish humour and his 'wagging finger and almost shuffling gait'. He was unfailingly kind and compassionate and colleagues constantly turned to him for advice.

He retired in 1982 at the age of 65 and his friends hoped he would enjoy a long retirement. Both he and his wife had borne much illness and also the death of Pam, their only daughter (a pathologist in Sheffield), in 1979. He died on 2 June 1982 survived by his wife Hilda and three sons.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1982, 285, 449].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England