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Biographical entry Williams, Michael Roger (1921 - 1996)

MRCS 1944; FRCS 1949; BM BCh Oxford 1944; LRCP 1944.

30 March 1921
7 December 1996
General surgeon


Michael Roger Williams was born in London on 30 March 1921. He was the eldest son of Muriel, née Buckley, the daughter of Lord Wrenbury, Justice of Appeal, and Bernard Williams, consultant surgeon to St Thomas's Hospital. He attended Rose Hill Preparatory School in Banstead, followed by Oundle School in Northamptonshire. He won an open major scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford, in 1939 and completed his medical training at St Thomas's Hospital in London. He received a Grocers Exhibition in 1939 and won the Theodore Williams anatomy prize in 1942.

During his time at St Thomas's he was particularly influenced by Mr B C Maybury, his father, Bernard Williams, Mr Charles Rob, Mr Joey Robinson and Mr Norman Barrett, all of whom provided a lasting impression on his career. In addition, his father's sister, Dr Cicely Williams, who first described kwashiorkor, was a source of inspiration. The environment of St Thomas's in those wartime days also made an impact on Michael, who would recall operating in the basement during the Blitz with six inches of water on the floor.

After qualification he did his National Service as a captain in the RAMC from 1944 to 1948 and spent most of that time as medical officer HQ BAOR in Germany. He then returned to London as resident assistant surgeon at the Royal Waterloo. He subsequently worked at St Thomas's Hospital on the surgical unit.

Michael became consultant surgeon to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital in 1957. He played a large part in helping set it up as a centre of national excellence and international repute. In particular, he was instrumental in establishing the postgraduate centre in the days of infancy of such organisations. This became the seat of postgraduate activity for many hundreds of junior medical staff and students passing through the hospital. He kept his links with St Thomas's Hospital. His registrar job in Canterbury was one of the most prized positions on the registrar rotation of St Thomas's. Many eminent surgeons had the privilege of working as Michael's registrar. His house surgeon posts were also in demand. These jobs were to serve them well, not only in surgery but in many other aspects of patient care. Most of his registrars and many house surgeons became and still are family friends.

First and foremost, Michael was a teacher. This extended not only to his registrars but also to all members of the team, particularly the nurses. He was acutely aware of aspects of patient care, such as the inability to cope at home after having been in hospital, and the inevitable decline on the ladder of independent living. His insistence on 'making a plan' was renowned.

At the Royal College of Surgeons he was surgical tutor and member of the Specialist Advisory Committee in General Surgery of the Joint College of Surgeons. He was a member of the MAC, Study Leave and Surgical Training Committee, and a member of the South East Regional Committee for Postgraduate Medical Education. He also played a prominent rôle in the Hospice movement, working with Dame Cicely Saunders at St Christopher's Hospice.

Michael was a dominant man, some might even have said arrogant, but thoughtfulness and kindness underpinned this aspect of his character to the extent that one seldom sees today. Throughout his life Michael retained strong connections and interests in Jamaica, where his family have lived for several generations. He owned a farm in Westmoreland rearing prize Jamaican Red Poll cattle.

He was married in 1955 to Barbara Isles, herself a doctor and anaesthetist who trained at St Thomas's. They had one son and three daughters. His son is a botanist, one daughter a neurophysiologist by training and now a science teacher, another daughter a materials scientist in the field of dentistry and his third daughter a reproductive physiologist. All three daughters have been awarded PhDs in their respective fields.

Michael retired to his home in Canterbury. His wife continued to work after his retirement at Kent and Canterbury Hospital with which he could then maintain an interest. He died peacefully on 7 December 1996 from bronchopneumonia and cardiac failure. His wife, four children, ten grandchildren and his four standard poodles survived him.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England