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Biographical entry Pilcher, Robin Sturtevant (1902 - 1994)

MRCS 1927; FRCS 1930; MB BS London 1928; MS 1931; MRCP 1929; FRCP 1964; LRCP 1927.

22 June 1902
Northwood, Middlesex
10 July 1994
Cardiac surgeon, General surgeon and Thoracic surgeon


Robin Pilcher was born on 22 June 1902 in Northwood, Middlesex, into a family without medical connections, although his younger brother Michael was to follow him into surgery. His father was Thorold Sturtevant Pilcher and his mother Helena, née Neilson. He was a scholar at St Paul's School and a prizewinning student at University College London and at UCH Medical School. He qualified with the conjoint diploma in 1927 and went on to take the MB with a gold medal in the following year. During his junior appointments at UCH he quickly added the MRCP, the FRCS and the MS to an impeccable curriculum vitae. Inspired by Wilfred Trotter and C C Choyce he was taken on to the surgical unit and rapidly ascended the ladder, being elected a youthful Professor of Surgery in 1938, a post which he held with distinction throughout his career.

Retained in the hospital by the Emergency Medical Service he carried a heavy clinical and teaching burden through all the war years which inevitably restricted his research interests. However he was developing considerable expertise in hand infections and the management of bronchiectasis; after the war he was attached also to the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, where he pioneered thoracic surgery, reporting an important series of cases of lobectomy for bronchiectasis. When the introduction of antibiotics was reducing the need for pulmonary surgery he started to enter the cardiac field, employing the anastomosis of the internal mammary artery to the coronary circulation for the relief of myocardial ischaemia. However, retirement came too soon to enable him to enjoy the boom in cardiac surgery in either adults or children.

Although an astute physician as well as a superb surgical technician, Pilcher's natural modesty and reserve prevented him from taking the prominent rôle on the national stage which his talents could well have justified. He served on the Court of Examiners of the College (being Chairman in 1965) and examined for several universities. He was a member of the MRC War Wounds Committee.

Although in private he could show a ready sense of humour he was superficially somewhat austere and not an easy man to know. However his ability as a surgeon and as a teacher gained him the respect of his students and the devotion of his assistants. He married, while still a junior in 1929, Mabel Ethel Pearks, by whom he had two sons and a daughter, none of whom entered the medical profession. He retired in 1967 to a Buckinghamshire village and immersed himself in gardening and village affairs, maintaining a beautiful garden in their elegant 16th century home, although increasing deafness cut him off from old friends and former interests. He died on 10 July 1994, survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1994 309 1956, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England