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Biographical entry Gardner, Dame Frances Violet (1913 - 1989)

DBE 1975; FRCS by election 1983; BSc London 1935; MB BS 1940; MD 1943; MRCP 1943; FRCP 1952.

28 February 1913
10 July 1989
Cardiologist and Physician


Frances Violet Gardner, the youngest of three daughters and the fourth child of Sir Eric, farmer and Conservative MP for East Berkshire, and Lady Gardner, was born on 28 February 1913. She was educated at Headington School, Oxford, Westfield College, London, and the Royal Free Hospital Medical School. On qualifying in 1940, with distinction in three subjects, she did a number of resident jobs and was then appointed medical registrar at the Royal Free Hospital in 1943. Two years later she became clinical assistant in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford. After a travelling fellowship at Harvard Medical School she was appointed to the consultant staff of the Royal Free Hospital as general physician and cardiologist in 1946. She also held appointments at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital and the Mothers' Hospital.

Frances was a dedicated clinician and a gifted teacher who was uncompromising in her pursuit of the highest standards. It was not easy to see the vulnerable and generous woman behind the defensive shield of intense reserve and the often abrupt public manner. Some were intimidated, others antagonised; but her students, however overawed, were quick to perceive her innate honesty and strong sense of justice. During the second world war she remained in London and did much for the calm organisation of casualty reception. She and George Qvist, whom she subsequently married, fortified the morale of students and nursing staff during those difficult years. After the war she was appointed Dean of the Royal Free Hospital Medical School from 1962 to 1973. She actively supported the establishment of the academic department of medicine, giving up beds in order to ensure the required complement for Sheila Sherlock, the first Professor. In 1958 she eventually married George Qvist and, although they were two fiercely independent, strong-minded and somewhat eccentric characters, this was a marriage of true minds and great affection: at work they lived separate and independent lives; at home they shared leisure and pleasures. Both separately and together they gave tremendous help, often financial, to many a student in distress. Having no children of their own their students became something of an extended family.

Outside her professional life Frances was a keen gardener and she also maintained a fine allotment near her home on Highgate Hill and was a familiar sight on her electric milk float there. Equally familiar in central London, when not driving her Rolls Royce, was her small electric car.

Her husband's death from multiple myelomatosis in 1981, after a long illness, was a crushing blow. But Frances, in his memory, became a most generous benefactor of the Royal College of Surgeons, funding the curatorship of the Hunterian Museum (now the George Qvist Curator), and also the regular George Qvist evenings, to which groups of students from the London teaching hospitals are invited to anatomical and clinical demonstrations, followed by an excellent meal. In 1983 she became FRCS by election in recognition of her unfailing support for George and the College throughout his illness. During her last years she gave notable backing to the Royal Free Medical School both as a member of Council and as its President, and she continued in consulting practice until shortly before her death on 10 July 1989. At her funeral, on 19 July, the oration at St Anne's Church, Highgate, was given by Professor Ruth Bowden, OBE.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Daily Telegraph 15 July 1989; Brit med J 1989, 299, 318; Lancet 1989, 2, 341].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England