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Biographical entry Patey, David Howard (1899 - 1977)

MRCS 1922; FRCS 1924; MB BS London 1923; MS 1927; LRCP 1922.

27 March 1977
General surgeon


David Howard Patey was born in 1899 in Monmouth, the eldest of three children. His father was a West Country man and his mother Welsh. He went to school in Llandovery, where an iron regimen of rugby football and the classics prevailed, and came to Middlesex Hospital for his preclinical and clinical work. He was in fact a Middlesex product from his undergraduate days to the end of his life. Having won the first Broderip Scholarship, the hospital's highest undergraduate award for final year students, he passed the final MB of London University in 1923 with gold medal and honours in surgery and obstetrics and gynaecology. This brilliant prelude was matched by his subsequent performance. After his house appointments he took the FRCS in 1924 and the MS in 1927, and was registrar to Sampson Handley and then research scholar and pathologist under Professor James McIntosh. He was appointed assistant surgeon to Middlesex Hospital in 1930. He won the Jacksonian Prize, RCS, and was Streatfield Scholar, RCP, in the same year; and Hunterian Professor, RCS, in 1931 (and again in 1964). In spite of these achievements he remained a shy, almost a diffident man, until the dangers and responsibilities of working in blitz stricken London gave him the confidence that, blended with intellectual humility, made him such an attractive person.

He became full surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital in 1945 and really began to exercise that influence which brought him worldwide renown. His work and papers on the salivary glands; on breast diseases, especially breast cancer; and on pilonidal sinuses showed the breadth of his clinical and pathological interests. They need no further comment, for they had an international impact on the understanding and treatment of their subjects. But perhaps the most important and influential thing he ever did was to found the Surgical Research Society, of which he was later to be President. This society has become the chief forum in this country for the discussion of new thinking and potential advances in surgery, and has had a profound influence on young surgeons and, indeed, surgeons who are no longer so young. He was President of the Section of Surgery of the Royal Society of Medicine and an Honorary Fellow of that society and the American Surgical Association.

Patey was a person of transparent integrity and he had the gift of being able to see the essential facts of a problem, stripped of the encrustations of legend and tradition, which so often obscure clinical thinking. He could be a devastating critic of ill-conceived ideas, of nonsense or of pomposity, and yet, in his slow and measured voice, able to criticise in such a kindly manner that he left no bitterness. This made him a superb clinical teacher and he enjoyed teaching. From 1952 until he retired in 1964 he was a director of surgical studies at the Middlesex, a post which amounted to a professorship without the obligation to cease private practice - though one sensed that private practice had no great attraction for him. Indeed, a story (probably apocryphal but nevertheless typical) circulated that he was on one occasion investigated by the Inland Revenue, as a result of which the Inland Revenue had to pay him a considerable cheque.

David Patey's home life was very happy, thanks to the devotion of his wife Gladys, and it was good to learn that he was able to enjoy a family celebration of his golden wedding only a few weeks before his death. They had three children one of whom is a doctor. Without parading the fact, he was a deeply religious man, and, until he retired completely to Hythe, he was churchwarden at St Mary's, Bryanston Square. He died from carcinoma of the prostate on 27 March 1977; he was 77 years old.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 16 April 1977; Brit med J 1977, 1, 1035].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England