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Biographical entry Merrington, William Robert (1912 - 1997)

MRCS 1935; FRCS 1937; BSc London 1932; MB BS 1935; MS 1939; LRCP 1935.

10 January 1912
Haslemere, Surrey
16 June 1997
General surgeon and Pathologist


'Tim' Merrington was an accomplished surgeon whose career was blighted but whose spirit was undimmed by multiple sclerosis. Within four years of becoming consultant surgeon to University College Hospital, an appointment for which his earlier achievements had long marked him out, he developed the first signs of the disease and was forced to retire. Yet, despite considerable handicap, he continued to maintain an active interest in surgical pathology, wrote the definitive history of University College Hospital and its medical school, and lived on into old age with his intellect unimpaired.

Tim was born in Haslemere, Surrey, on 10 January 1912, the son of Robert John Merrington, a builder's manager and his wife, Alice Maud née Fagent. Of his three brothers, one was a naval architect, one a consulting engineer and one a physicist. A scholarship took him to Guildford Junior Technical School and on to University College, where he won the gold medal for physiology. In the medical school he was again awarded a gold medal for medicine, but after qualifying in 1935 and a house job with Wilfred Trotter he set his career on surgery. Having gained practical experience at the West Middlesex and passed his FRCS, he went back to the UCH surgical unit, where he was made a surgeon in the Emergency Medical Service at the outbreak of the war. In 1942, he joined the RAMC and served as Lieutenant Colonel with the First and Eighth Army in Africa and Italy. On return, after a spell as John Marshall fellow, he was appointed surgeon to UCH, in 1949, and was given an opportunity to study at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The first signs of multiple sclerosis appeared in 1953; he had to give up surgery, but maintained his interest in pathology as curator of the museum and as senior lecturer in pathology. He could no longer enjoy sport, but was able to play the violin with considerable ability, often together with his wife and the late Richard Asher. His book University College Hospital and its medical school: a history (London, Heinneman, 1976), which still stands out as one of the best hospital histories, was published when he was coming up to retirement. He had great difficulty in getting about but he continued to be active until his death on 16 June 1997. He had married Maxine Venables, a statistician at UCH, in 1939, and she cared for him through long and difficult years. His daughter, Judith, was born in 1943 and is now a community psychiatrist. His son, Oliver, is an IT scientist at the Scott Polar Research Unit, Cambridge.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from M P M Merrington].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England