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Biographical entry Handley, Richard Sampson (1909 - 1984)

OBE 1945; MRCS 1933; FRCS 1938; MA Cambridge 1933; MB BCh 1933; LRCP 1933.

2 May 1909
16 June 1984
General surgeon


Richard Sampson (Dick) Handley was born in London on 2 May 1909, the eldest son of William Sampson Handley and Muriel Rigby, the daughter of the Reverend Clayton Rigby. Dick's father was on the surgical staff of the Middlesex Hospital, a member of both the Council and Court of Examiners of the College, and a Vice-President. Dick was later to hold all those appointments but he had, in addition, a unique distinction: when he was three months old, he was baptised in the chapel of the Middlesex Hospital with water brought by his grandfather from the River Jordan. No other member of the staff of the Middlesex was baptised there.

His junior house posts were served with Dr Lakin in 1933 and Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor in 1934. He was demonstrator in anatomy in Cambridge in 1935 and assistant pathologist at the Bland-Sutton Institute under R W Scarff, in 1936. He was resident at St Peter's Hospital for Stone in 1938 and registrar to Pearce Gould in 1939. He joined the RAMC and went to France soon after war broke out in 1939. In 1940, he brought back wounded by train in "a close-run dash across France" and he was posted to the Middle East after France fell. 1944 saw him back in France and he was with the BLA until the war ended, receiving a mention in despatches. He was released with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and was awarded the OBE.

In 1946, he was elected to the surgical staff of the Middlesex and he continued his father's work on breast cancer in addition to developing a general surgical practice. He was a pioneer in the use of the laparoscope in abdominal diagnosis and he was the only British contributor to E F Lewison's Breast cancer, published in Baltimore in 1955. He served as honorary secretary of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland from 1960 to 1966 and of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1967, becoming President of the Section of Surgery there in 1971, the year that he delivered the Gordon-Taylor Lecture at the College. In all these appointments, he brought charm and wisdom to bear; it was said that puffing his pipe he looked more like a scholarly don than a surgeon. He was a renowned and popular teacher and a careful and gentle operator. The respect he inspired in his patients and their relatives was exemplified by the patient who told her husband that she knew she was going to hear bad news and she would hear this only from Mr Handley. In the theatre, his only idiosyncrasy was that after removing a breast in a radical mastectomy he always called for a "charger", as that was what John the Baptist's head was placed on.

He had an abiding love for the College and it traditions. Every year he would visit the College with his "firm", knowledgeably and often humorously explaining the history and significance of all that he showed them. In the library it was his custom to call for James Lind's Treatise on the Scurvy, 1753, and after reading significant passages aloud he would explain it was the first published example of a controlled clinical trial. Handley had little enthusiasm for committees and medical politics and he disliked flamboyance. One of his loves was the Surgical Travelling Club, of which he was secretary from 1957 to 1967.

He enjoyed sailing and had a boat on the Helford River. He carved models of his boats and he carefully divided the staffs of the Vice-Presidents of the College of Surgeons and fitted them with screw joints, crafted by himself, so that they could be carried in a travelling case to regional meetings of the College. He loved the English of Oliver Goldsmith and Edward Gibbon and he was an honorary member of the Hellenic Surgical Society and an Honorary MD Salonika.

Handley married Joan Gray in 1942. They had a son, David, and a daughter, Rosey. Joan died in 1975 and in 1976, he married Rosemary who survives him. He died on 16 June 1984 aged 75 years.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 19 June 1984; Daily Telegraph 18 June 1984; Brit med J 1984, 289, 118, 445; Lancet 1984, 2, 114].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England