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Biographical entry Wright, Arthur Dickson (1897 - 1976)

MRCS and FRCS 1922; MB BS London 1922; MS 1924; DTMH 1924.

5 May 1897
6 January 1976
General surgeon


Arthur Dickson 'Dicky' Wright was born in Dublin on 5 May 1897, the third child of an Irish doctor who moved to Glasgow and then to London. His father, Edward Wright, was known as 'the hero doctor of Paddington'. He went to school at Hillhead High in Glasgow and then Latymer Upper at Hammersmith before entering the medical school at St Mary's, Paddington, his studies being interrupted by the first world war. He served from 1915 to 1917 in the RFA, RFC and RAF, becoming flight commander before returning to St Mary's where he qualified in 1922. After working briefly with his doctor brother in London he obtained his FRCS, MS London and a diploma in tropical medicine. His amazingly retentive memory and capacity for working day and night were already standing him in good stead.

He then joined the Colonial Service and departed for Singapore. It is said that he studied the language on the ship's passage and on arrival passed a proficiency examination in written Arabic - it could well be true. He gained enormous experience in Malaya in general surgery, having been appointed Professor of Surgery at the age of 26 and he married the daughter of a leading Singapore family, Molly Bath.

Returning to London in the early 1930's he joined Professor Aubrey Pannett as assistant director of the surgical unit at St Mary's and quickly joined the hospital staff as consultant which post he held until his retirement. He was an unbelievably hard worker and time had little relevance to him. He was a most dexterous operator and would tackle anything from a brain tumour to a coarctation of the aorta. He joined the staff of the Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases and was particularly well known for this aspect of his work, but he remained a staunch generalist. After a day seeing patients in his rooms and the hospital, a trip to the races or to view the hospital playing rugby, he would turn up at 10 pm to do a full operating list, visiting patients in their beds and thus often alarming them, in the small hours.

He was a devoted member of the College Council for sixteen years, two of them as Vice-President. In addition he was a very successful treasurer of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, yet found time to be President of three sections of the Royal Society of Medicine and of the Harveian and Hunterian Societies, the Osler Club and the Medical Society of London, to name just a few.

Dicky was not a great teacher but he inspired loyalty in all those who worked closely with him and his patients, despite his disarming habits, were devoted to him. He loved music, the stage and was immensely well read, he never seemed to forget anything and he always enjoyed a day at the races. He had the look of Punchinello, his face would crease into a crooked smile and out of the corner of his mouth would come those biting words and sardonic humour with their Irish flavour. He became renowned as an after-dinner speaker, both for his wit and his erudition, but occasionally in the development of a theme the humour would get out of hand and he would offend some of his listeners.

His last years were marred by a stroke which left him aphasic and in a wheelchair, but he would still visit his old haunts and loved a good race meeting. Molly died on 4 June 1975 and he died on January 6 1976, survived by their son and three daughters. A service of thanksgiving was held at St Martin's-in-the-Fields which was attended by the President and Council. The Rt Hon Lord Porritt, his colleague for so many years at St Mary's, ended his address with these words 'Yes, "Dicky" Wright was a character - a mercurial character of the genius type in his own entirely individual way. Medicine was in his blood, surgery was in his hands, almost everything was in his head and warm generosity was in his heart. It is safe to say that it will be many a day until we see his like again - but we will not forget him.'

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1976, 1, 159; Acta neurochirurgica 1977, 36, 139; The Times 8 January 1976; Daily Telegraph 7 January 1976; Ann Roy Coll Surg Eng 1976, 58, 333].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England