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Biographical entry Wood, Sir Arthur Michael (1919 - 1987)

Kt 1985; CBE 1977; MRCS 1943; FRCS by election 1987; MB BS London 1944; LRCP 1943.

28 January 1919
Guildford, Surrey
16 May 1987
Nairobi, Kenya
Plastic surgeon


Arthur Michael Wood, the second son of Arthur Henry Wood, CB, a civil servant in the Board of Education, and of Katherine Mary Altham Wood (née Cumberlege), was born at Guildford, Surrey, on 28 January, 1919. He was educated at Lambrook School, Berkshire, Ringwood School, Winchester College, the École Nouveau, Lausanne, and the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He studied architecture for two and a half years before entering the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and qualifying in 1943. After house surgeon, casualty officer and registrar appointments at the Middlesex he became Simon Marks Fellow at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. In his training years he recorded his indebtedness to R Vaughan Hudson, Rainsford Mowlem and Sir Archibald McIndoe. Throughout this period he suffered from repeated severe attacks of asthma and it was this which determined his move to Kenya where, at high altitude in Nairobi, his asthma was relieved. His disability, and his early preoccupation with plastic surgery, partly explain his failure to secure the FRCS to which he was eventually elected shortly before his death.

After settling in Kenya he was appointed consultant plastic surgeon to the Kenyatta Hospital and to the HH Aga Khan Hospital, as well as to the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre. He also became associated with the Flying Doctor Service with which he recorded more than 4000 hours as a pilot. He started with two aeroplanes and steadily increased the complement over the years. Radio communications to Nairobi airport were opened up with missionary hospitals in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and even as far afield as Somalia and Ethiopia. He became Director General of the African Medical and Research Foundation whereby mobile teams provided medical services, health education, immunisation, and other facilities on the ground from the Masai country in Tanzania to Kilimanjaro in Northern Uganda. He was President of the Red Cross Society of Kenya and Chairman of the East African Medical Research Council and sometime honorary lecturer in plastic surgery at the University of Nairobi.

Outside his medical interests he was deeply concerned with the future of African society. He succeeded David Stirling as president of the Capricorn Africa Society and passionately supported the concept that Africa's future lay in a firm partnership between the black and white communities. He was keen on mountaineering and he also farmed 10,000 acres on Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, until the government there requisitioned his and seven other fine farms. Sadly, the proceeds from his own farm had largely helped to start and expand the African Medical and Research Foundation. At this stage he moved back to Nairobi with his wife, Sue, whose family, the Buxtons, had been great missionaries in Africa. However, he was still allowed to fly to Tanzania on medical missions and so his great work continued. His published books include The principles of the treatment of trauma (1962), and Different drums (1987), as well as a short autobiography entitled Go an extra mile (1978). In recognition of his manifold contributions he was awarded the Royal Africa Society Gold Medal in 1970, CBE in 1977 and was knighted in 1985. When he died in Nairobi, on 16 May, 1987, he was survived by his wife and four children, two daughters and two sons, of whom the eldest, Mark Lionel, is medically qualified.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1987, 294, 1558].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England