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Biographical entry Pulvertaft, Robert Guy (1907 - 1986)

CBE 1972; MRCS 1932; FRCS 1934; MB BCh Cambridge 1937; Hon MD Gothenburg 1968; MChir 1971; LRCP 1932.

31 May 1907
11 August 1986
Orthopaedic surgeon


Guy Pulvertaft was born in Cork on 31 May 1907, the second son of Amos William Pulvertaft, an engineer, and his wife Clara, née Savage. His early education was at Cork Grammar School and Weymouth College before entering Caius College, Cambridge. He obtained first class honours in the Natural Science Tripos in 1929 and went to St Thomas's Hospital for his clinical studies qualifying in 1932 after winning the Sutton Sams Prize. His early appointments were as house surgeon to Philip Mitchiner at St Thomas's Hospital and subsequently orthopaedic house surgeon to A J Blaxland and J A Brittain at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. He passed the FRCS two years after qualifying and held registrar appointments under Sir Harry Platt, Naughton Dunn and Sir Reginald Watson-Jones before being appointed orthopaedic surgeon to Grimsby and Scunthorpe Hospitals in 1937.

During the ten years he spent at Grimsby he encountered many serious hand injuries sustained by workers in the fish factories and developed a life-long interest pioneered by the American hand surgeon Sterling Bunnell working in San Francisco. He moved from Grimsby Hospital to Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital in the West Midlands and in 1947 to Derbyshire Royal Infirmary where he built up a specialist unit devoted to injuries and disorders of the hand. In 1947 he was appointed Hunterian Professor giving a stimulating lecture on tendon injuries and in 1951 he founded the Hand Club, the meetings of which were devoted to papers describing the experience of orthopaedic surgeons with a special interest in restoring useful function in hands after tendon injuries. In 1969 the British Society for Surgery of the Hand was founded and Guy Pulvertaft was its first President. He was appointed civilian orthopaedic specialist to the Royal Air Force, served as Watson-Jones Lecturer in 1967, as President of Derby Medical Society in 1968 and Vice-President of the British Orthopaedic Association in the following year. He contributed extensively to surgical and orthopaedic journals and published two books on the surgery of hand injuries. He was on the editorial board of the British journal of surgery, the Journal of bone and joint surgery and Postgraduate medicine.

After retiring from the National Health Service in 1972 he was awarded the CBE and carried out further teaching and operative work in the Gulf States and Africa. He devoted his considerable energy encouraging junior colleagues and he was a gifted speaker at postgraduate meetings. He married Betty Willock in 1934 and there were two daughters and one son of the marriage. His son Roger qualified in medicine and passed the FRCS in 1973 and both his daughters, Clare and Alison, are state registered nurses.

After retiring he was able to devote more time to his hobbies of fishing and sailing and he was proud of his membership of the Royal Cork Yacht Club. Sadly his wife pre-deceased him in 1983 and he died on 11 August 1986, aged 79.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 16 August 1986].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England