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Biographical entry Bates, Michael (1917 - 1985)

MRCS 1941; FRCS 1949; FACS 1980; LRCP 1941.

July 1917
17 August 1985
Thoracic surgeon


Michael Bates, the second son and youngest of three children of Tom Bates, a surgeon, was born in Worcester in July 1917. There were strong surgical roots in the family, his father being surgeon to the Worcester Royal Infirmary for 34 years, while his paternal grandfather - another Tom Bates - and an uncle, Mark Bates, had also been surgeons to the Infirmary. Michael's mother was 42 when he was born and he had a relatively lonely childhood as his siblings were much older. Moreover he had been born with a sightless left eye and, at the age of six, due to what would now be regarded as quite needless anxiety that the left eye might damage its healthy fellow, the blind eye was removed. At the age of seven he went to Aymestry School where the accent was on discipline, fair play, games and the study of wildlife. Indeed he was so happy there that he ultimately directed that his ashes should be scattered on the school cricket field. His education continued at Radley School, where despite the missing eye, he became an excellent cricketer and captained the first eleven. He then followed his father and grandfather to St Bartholomew's Hospital where he captained the first cricket team and qualified in 1941.

After a surgical house job and registrar appointment with J E H Roberts at Bart's, he served in the RAMC in the Far East from 1945 to 1948 before returning to O S Tubbs' unit in the Bart's sector hospital at St Albans, and then at the Brompton Hospital for further training in thoracic surgery with O S Tubbs and Russell (later Lord) Brock. He completed the final FRCS in 1949 and was appointed consultant thoracic surgeon at North Middlesex and Broomfield (Colchester) Hospitals in 1952. At North Middlesex he developed an excellent regional thoracic centre, building upon the earlier work of Ivor Lewis who had also done general surgery. Closed cardiac surgery was also undertaken but, to his regret, he was never able to develop open cardiac work there. It was some compensation to him that he was later appointed thoracic surgeon to the Royal Northern Hospital in 1969, and was invited to join the Royal Free Hospital staff in 1979. His inexhaustible energy in his earlier years at North Middlesex and Colchester had enabled him to collect thoracic patients from a large part of the then North East Metropolitan region, and as a result he was able to give a notable Hunterian lecture in 1980, based upon no less than 2430 personal thoracotomies for bronchial carcinoma, possibly the largest personal series ever published. He was a regular participant in hospital clinical meetings and ran a popular thoracic surgical course for the final FRCS at North Middlesex Hospital. Despite his monocular vision he never had the slightest difficulty in operating and, more remarkably, he was able to strike a fast moving cricket ball with skill.

Bates was President of the Thoracic Society in 1980, and of the Society of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons in 1982, the year of his retirement from the NHS. It was a source of bitter disappointment to him that the fine thoracic unit which he had developed at North Middlesex Hospital was closed down shortly afterwards. At about this time he developed peritonitis from a perforated carcinoma of the rectosigmoid region and had a succession of four abdominal operations which he withstood with calm and courage during the last eighteen months of his life. He had recently completed the editing of a book on bronchial carcinoma which was published in 1984. During his early resident appointments he had married Jean Young, a Bart's nurse, but they were divorced nine years later. There were two sons of that marriage, the elder of whom, a fourth generation doctor and the third surgical "Tom", is now a general surgeon at the William Harvey Hospital in Kent. Following the second world war, Michael married another Bart's nurse, Nancy Cranston Brown, by whom he had four daughters, the second of whom qualified at Bart's and is now practising ophthalmology. In the last year of his life, he gave his second daughter in marriage, spent four months at his holilday home in Cyprus, visited his second son in California and attended his youngest daughter's graduation at Durham just six weeks before his death. When he died at his home on 17 August 1985, aged 68, he was survived by his first and second wives and by his six children. Following his cremation his ashes were scattered on the cricket field at his old preparatory school. A Thanksgiving service was held at the Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great on 2 November 1985 when the address was given by Sir Reginald Murley, KBE, TD, past President of the College.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1985, 291, 903].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England