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Biographical entry de Dombal, Francis Timothy (1937 - 1995)

MRCS 1961; FRCS 1967; MB ChB Cambridge 1963; MD Cambridge 1968; LRCP 1961.

16 August 1937
31 December 1995
General surgeon and Research scientist


Tim de Dombal was born on 16 August 1937 in Sheffield, the son of Leonard Arthur de Dombal, a general practitioner, and Frances Edith, née Hire, a teacher.

He won a scholarship to Uppingham School, and in 1955 went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read natural sciences. There, his prowess at jazz piano and drums led him to accompany the Footlights, and it was through this interest that he met his future wife, Nancy. He did his clinical studies at the University of Sheffield and qualified in 1961.

After junior appointments in Sheffield and Leeds, including a research post with Professor John Goligher at the General Infirmary, Leeds, he was appointed successively lecturer and senior lecturer in surgery on that unit. In 1971 he became reader in clinical information science at St James's Hospital, Leeds, and in 1980 was appointed honorary consultant surgeon to Leeds Health Authority. In 1981 he became director of the clinical information science unit at Leeds University, and ten years later he was awarded a personal chair in this specialty. Tim was a perfectionist, and having trained in surgery he realised at an early stage that his real talent lay in pure research. He turned his attention to computerised data collection and retrieval, so as to improve the accuracy of diagnosis, especially amongst the more junior members of the profession.

As with all pioneers his methods were not always readily accepted but he persevered in this emerging field of clinical information science and his views were regularly sought by the medical Royal Colleges and such major agencies as the World Health Organisation and NASA. For over twenty years he held the chairmanship of the World Congress of Gastroenterology Research Committee and directed multinational surveys both from the developed and newly emerging countries of the world.

He travelled widely, and was an invited lecturer to more than 100 national and international societies and associations. He held numerous academic distinctions and was a man of enormous energy and intellect, conversant in several languages, and an undergraduate teacher who could simplify the most difficult problems and at the same time amuse his students. He was a member of the editorial boards of numerous journals and publications, and he published eight books and some 450 original papers, mainly on inflammatory bowel disease, clinical information science and the use of computers in medicine. In addition to this huge output he produced video teaching aids and computer programs which have been distributed to over 40 nations.

His other interests apart from jazz piano included skiing, motor racing and astronomy. After receiving a second-hand MG as a 21st birthday present from his father he took up car driving and rallying, and latterly served as medical officer at race meetings both locally and nationally.
In 1961 he married Nancy Denham, a teacher, and they had two children - Richard, who became an accountant, and Elizabeth, who became a general practitioner and, like her father and grandfather, also trained at Sheffield. Tragically Tim died prematurely on 31 December 1995, aged 58, following a heart attack while he was awaiting a triple bypass operation. His pioneering work in Leeds is, however, continuing under the direction of Dr Susan Clamp, PhD.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1996 312 438. Information from Mrs Nancy de Dombal].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England