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Biographical entry Hadfield, Esmé Havelock (1921 - 1992)

MRCS and FRCS 1951; BM BCh Oxford 1945; MA 1952.

27 February 1921
8 April 1992
ENT surgeon


Esmé Hadfield was born on 27 February 1921 in Long Ashton, Bristol. She was the daughter of Geoffrey Hadfield, Professor of Pathology at the Royal College of Surgeons, and Eileen, née Irvine, who came from farming stock in County Fermanagh, Ulster. She was educated at Clifton High School, St Hugh's College, Oxford, and Oxford University Medical School (then at the Radcliffe Infirmary). She qualified in 1945, and after successive appointments at the Radcliffe she eventually became first assistant to the ENT department there. She also spent six months in Zurich and a year as British Empire Cancer Campaign Exchange Fellow in Vancouver and Toronto.

She studied under R G Macbeth and G H Livingstone, who were ENT surgeons in Oxford and Wycombe, and in 1957 she was appointed consultant surgeon to the ENT department at Wycombe and Amersham Hospitals. While at Wycombe she began to suspect an association between cancer of the nasal sinuses and exposure to wood dust in workers in the furniture industry in that area. Working with Macbeth, she eventually proved this association and this important work gained her world-wide acclaim.

She was awarded a Hunterian Professorship at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1969-70, and later became President of the Section of Laryngology of the Royal Society of Medicine and a member of the Court of Examiners. She built up an excellent department single-handed at Wycombe Hospital and eventually retired in 1986.

She enjoyed foreign travel, particularly to Italy, and also fishing in Scotland. Esmé Hadfield was a colourful personality. Her gruff manner was deceptive and she had great compassion beneath it. The well-being of her patients was always her prime concern, and if worried about a sick child she would often spend the night at the hospital, where she was recognised as a wonderfully caring doctor.

She never married, and died aged 71 in the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, on 8 April 1992. Her two brothers both became Fellows of the College, and were consultant surgeons at Stoke Mandeville and Bedford Hospitals respectively.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1992 305 177, with portrait; Times, 5 May 1992. Information from Dr D S Wilkinson].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England