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Biographical entry Hughes, Norman Campbell (1915 - 1995)

OBE 1975; MRCS 1937; FRCS 1947; FRCS Ireland 1973; MB ChB BAO Belfast 1937; LRCP 1937.

15 May 1915
Bangor, County Down
1 June 1995
General surgeon and Plastic surgeon


Norman Hughes was born in Bangor, County Down, on 15 May 1915, the son of William Edwin Hughes, a manager of the Royal Insurance Company in Belfast, and his wife Elizabeth Knox, née Campbell, who was artistic and an enthusiastic gardener and golfer. Hughes was educated at Bangor Grammar School and Queen's University in Belfast, whence he graduated MB ChB BAO in 1937 and also obtained the primary FRCS in the same year. After the usual house officer appointments he spent one year's research into muscle blood flow in the department of physiology under Professor Henry Barcroft. With the outbreak of war in 1939 he immediately enlisted in the RAMC and after Dunkirk volunteered for the proposed new Commando Force. With his commanding officer-to-be he travelled the length and breadth of Britain in search of suitable officers and other ranks who would constitute the Commandos and Hughes was deeply involved in the very rigorous selection process. He spent the next few years with these elite young men from all walks of life in this tightly-knit community of Commandos, where morale was extremely high. Hughes, although a doctor, was primarily a fighting soldier in the Unit. Their training was very arduous and much of it was conducted in the snow and ice of the Cairngorms under the tutelage of John Hunt of Everest fame. They were also trained in close combat with knives and pistols and learnt to handle small boats and assault landing craft. Norman Hughes was involved in many of these forays including the Lofoten raid, and in addition to his personal arms and ammunition always carried two haversacks containing shell dressings, morphia, syringes and other basic medical items.

At the end of 1943 the original Commando force was disbanded and incorporated into the Royal Marines, so with deep regret Norman decided to resign and resume a medical career. He was posted to the Middle East as a graded surgeon and ultimately arrived at the 15th Scottish General Hospital in Cairo, where he had the good fortune to work with Mortimer Shaw, one of the few specialist maxillofacial surgeons at that time, and this experience led him to decide to follow a career in this specialty.

At the end of the war Hughes returned to Belfast as surgical registrar at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and in 1946 he married Rosemary Fullerton, who was also a doctor. They had a son, Alastair, who became an engineer, and two daughters, Mary, a GP and Anne, a geneticist. In 1947 Hughes was awarded one of the first Marks Fellowships to train with Archie McIndoe at East Grinstead, and he celebrated this event by obtaining the FRCS shortly after his arrival. Norman thoroughly enjoyed his three busy years at East Grinstead and proved to be an apt pupil who gained the support and encouragement of McIndoe, who was a perfectionist and a hard and punctilious taskmaster.

In 1950 Hughes was invited to return to Belfast as a consultant surgeon to establish a Plastic Surgery and Burns Unit for Northern Ireland, which he accepted. The unit quickly gained a reputation for plastic and maxillofacial surgery of the highest quality and subsequently played an important part in treating the many patients injured in 'the troubles'. Hughes was a dedicated and greatly appreciated teacher who taught by precept and example, and his interest in training was not just confined to Belfast. He was also a member of the Joint Committee on Higher Surgical Training, established by the Royal Colleges to regulate and standardise the training of consultant surgeons, and chaired the Specialist Advisory Committee for Plastic Surgery for seven years.

In Belfast between 1953 and 1971 he spent many arduous hours of unpaid overtime as one of the four man planning team at the Royal Victoria Hospital, culminating in a new operating theatre block, the new radiology department, the Dental School, the Eye and ENT Hospitals and the Outpatients and Accident and Emergency Building.

In 1973 Hughes was awarded the OBE and became an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. In 1977 he was elected President of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons and in 1979 he was a Hunterian Professor of the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1985 he gave a memorable Gillies Lecture entitled 'The legacy of the giants' in which he paid eloquent tribute to those whose original contributions enabled progress to be made by others building on the foundations which they established. With characteristic modesty he made no mention of his own contribution, but this fully entitles him to be considered among the giants in his own right.

His busy life left little time for writing, but he published various papers and reports on his specialty and contributed chapters on plastic surgery in Rob and Smith's Operative surgery and in Recent advances in plastic surgery in 1976. In his youth Norman was a keen all-round sportsman, with particular interests in rugby, cricket, tennis and skiing, an art he learnt in the Commandos. However in later years his greatest pleasure came from family cruises in his yacht along the west coast of Scotland. Other hobbies were philately, antiques and woodwork, which he performed with skill and precision.

He died from the complications of long-standing aortic valve disease on 1 June 1995.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1996 311 1160, with portrait; Br J Plast Surg 1996 49 70, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England