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Biographical entry Cann, Robert John (1901 - 1983)

MRCS 1924; FRCS by election 1949; MB BS London 1926; MS 1930; LRCP 1924.

17 February 1983
ENT surgeon


Robert (Bobby) Cann was born in Wimbledon in 1901 and educated at Richmond County School. He entered Guy's Hospital as a medical student in 1918, qualifying with the Conjoint Diploma in 1924. Among his house appointments at Guy's the second was that of ophthalmic house surgeon, which included care of patients in the ear, nose and throat beds. It was then that his interest in otorhinolaryngology was aroused. After graduating MB BS in 1926 he was made chief clinical assistant and registrar in the ENT department. There he received the best of training under W M Mollison and T B Layton. His clinical acumen and surgical skill were early recognised and he was entrusted with numerous mastoidectomies and other procedures then necessary. He remained in his post for 12 years, during which he took the London MS, gaining the University Gold Medal. He also spent a period of study in Bordeaux.

There was no prospect of further advancement within the department but in 1934 the governors of Guy's created a new ENT post, that of assistant surgeon, for which Cann was encouraged to apply. He was successful, and was concurrently appointed otologist to the LCC fever hospitals. This meant that much of his time was taken up in dealing with acute emergencies, usually mastoiditis and diphtheritic airway obstruction. He was promoted to full consultant at Guy's in 1938.

In 1946, after T B Layton's retirement, he took charge of the ENT department at Guy's. With Philip Reading he was responsible for the post-war reorganisation of the hospital and centralisation once more of the scattered services in the sector. His experience from appointments at several district hospitals - Evelina Children's Hospital, St Helier Hospital, the East Surrey Hospital and Caterham District Hospital - helped him considerably.

In 1949 he was elected FRCS, and shortly afterwards was elected to the Court of Examiners for the FRCS in otorhinolaryngology. In 1957 he was President of the Section of Laryngology of the Royal Society of Medicine and in 1962 President of the Visiting Association of Throat and Ear Surgeons of Great Britain. He was a truly general ENT surgeon, and abhorred over-specialisation. He preferred practical surgery to publication of papers, and his increasing involvement with organisation and administration in any case left little time for the latter.

In 1961 he was chosen by his colleagues to chair both the Guy's medical committee and the medical school's academic board. He was a devoted Guy's man, whose wisdom and impartiality later made him a trusted and successful acting hospital superintendent in 1966 and 1967 when he was involved in the final stages of planning the new 30-storey tower block. In 1968 he was the obvious selection as the chairman of the school's council of governors. When the hospital board was abolished in 1974 and Lord Robens became chairman of the school governors he was persuaded by Lord Robens to continue as vice-chairman. This he did until 1980, completing 62 years of continuous connection with Guy's.

He married Gwendolen in 1929 and moved with her on his retirement to South Petherton, Somerset, to be near his children and grandchildren. There he enjoyed his interest in gardening and in his library, which contained a treasure of first editions.

He died suddenly at his home on 17 February 1983, aged 82.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 22 February 1983; Brit med J 1983, 286, 903; Lancet 1983, 1, 718].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England