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Biographical entry Sellwood, Ronald Arthur (1929 - 2015)

MB ChB Bristol 1952; FRCS 1959; ChM 1967; MSc Manchester 1973.

18 May 2015
Breast Surgeon, General surgeon and Oncologist


Ron Sellwood was professor of surgery at the University Hospital of South Manchester (UHSM). He undertook his initial surgical training in Bristol, where he held house officer appointments at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. After military service with the RAMC in Hong Kong, he continued his surgical training at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, Bristol Royal Infirmary and Sharoe Green Hospital in Preston.

He subsequently trained at registrar level at the Postgraduate Medical School of London at Hammersmith Hospital, working with Ian Burn, the well-known breast surgeon, and Richard Welbourn, the endocrine surgeon. He then took a year out to undertake studies in pathology at the Chester Beatty Institute for Cancer Research. Thereafter he returned to Hammersmith as a senior surgical registrar and a tutor in surgery.

In 1968 he was appointed as a senior lecturer in surgery and assistant director at St Mary's Hospital Medical School, London, and as an honorary consultant surgeon to St Mary's Hospital. In 1970 he was appointed to a new chair in surgery at Manchester University with the task of developing an academic department of surgery at Withington Hospital, subsequently renamed the University Hospital of South Manchester. That same year he was awarded the Moynihan fellowship of the Association of Surgeons.

Ron's main interest, both clinical and research, was in the field of breast cancer. His laboratory studies resulted in significant contributions to the understanding of the dissemination of cancer cells in the circulation. Whilst at the Hammersmith he worked closely with Ian Burn to establish breast surgery as a specialty in its own right. With the encouragement of Welbourn, they defined oncology as a specialty, leading to the creation, in 1972, of the British Association of Surgical Oncology, of which he was a founder member and a member of the national committee. Throughout these developmental years he was described as having a razor sharp intelligence and a splendidly analytical mind, bound up with an unassuming personality and a wonderful sense of humour. He was subsequently honoured to be made president of the British Breast Group.

Ron Sellwood was a great communicator and was especially gifted in explaining to patients the problems associated with the management of breast cancer. An example of this talent is the interview with the broadcaster Sally Magnusson on BBC television about the development of breast screening, which is now in the BBC archive.

Perhaps his greatest achievement was his successful development of the academic department of surgery at Withington Hospital, which, alongside other clinical departments, formed the University Hospital of South Manchester, thus creating the second campus of the rapidly expanding Manchester University Medical School. When it was finally completed, with the addition of the third campus at Hope Hospital, Salford, Manchester University could pride itself on having a thriving school of surgery with three chairs in general surgery, as well as chairs in urology, orthopaedics, vascular surgery, plastic surgery, emergency medicine and surgical science. It is to Ron Sellwood's credit that several of these were sited at UHSM.

Ron had an irrepressible sense of humour and was always fun to be with, and he and his wife Patsy were charming hosts.

Ron Sellwood retired in 1988 with the title of emeritus. Together with his wife, he moved to Norfolk, where they lived happily and where Ron could indulge in his hobby of bird watching. He died on 18 May 2015.

Sir Miles Irving

Sources used to compile this entry: [Manchester Medical Collection Electronic Gateway to Archives at Rylands. Ref GB133MMC/2/Sellwood].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England