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Biographical entry Packham, Derek Albert (1932 - 2002)

MRCS 1956; FRCS 1959; MB BS London 1956; LRCP 1956.

25 April 1932
29 March 2002


Derek Packham was head of the urology department at King's. He was born on 25 April 1932 in a tiny house off the Walworth Road in South East London, the only child of Albert William Packham, a local butcher. His mother was Jessie née Symonds. His second name was 'Albert', much to his relief, as he wanted to be a dustman and 'Derek' would not sound quite suitable on a dustcart. Wartime evacuation to Buckfastleigh in Devon completely changed his life, and started a life-long love of rivers. Totnes Grammar School proved an ideal springboard to his postwar years at Archbishop Tenison's Grammar School at the Oval, where he excelled academically and was also pretty good on the sports field. It was probably the chance to do something that none of his family had had the opportunity to do that led him into medicine, a decision tremendously and unselfishly supported by his parents. Hence he went to King's College in the Strand, which he thoroughly enjoyed, and then onto King's College Hospital Medical School.

Having received the Legg prize in surgery, he qualified in 1956 and as his first house job worked for that gentleman of surgery, Sir Edward Muir. He then gained experience of cardiothoracic surgery under Bill Cleland, learning techniques which were later to help him in occasional excursions into the chest. Jobs in orthopaedic and general surgery followed with a spell of National Service at Millbank. His urological skills were further developed at the Institute of Urology in London and then fine-tuned as senior registrar to Geoffrey Yates-Bell and Harland Rees at King's and as RSO at St Peter's.

In 1967 he was appointed consultant urologist at King's and five years later became head of the urology department, a post he held until his early retirement from the NHS following by-pass surgery in 1990. He enjoyed teaching, both undergraduate and postgraduate, and would have been very proud to see how many of his students, house surgeons and registrars had become internationally recognised in their varied fields. His private practice, mostly at the Cromwell Hospital, gave him immense pleasure and satisfaction: he enjoyed meeting patients and colleagues from all over the world and having the time to learn new investigative and operative techniques.

He was not an academic. He hated writing papers, although he admired those who did. His charm, kindness to patients, colleagues and residents, together with his undoubted surgical skills, made him very much as surgeon's surgeon. He was happiest in the operating theatre. He disliked ward rounds with a retinue, finding one-to-one discussions with patients much easier. On one occasion, when the registrar dragged him to see a patient, the patient subsequently told the ward sister that he thought that he was a 'goner' as Mr Packham had seen him.

Derek had many hobbies. Changing his car every few months was mandatory. Golf was a passion, and he thought new clubs, a new book or the latest video would make him a better player. Living near Biggin Hill, he learnt to fly and held a licence, until by-pass surgery forced him to give up. For the next 10 years he was a dressage rider, keeping horses at his house in Kent, giving up only when he decided that he was not going to get any better. Fly-fishing brought many happy holidays on the Spey with fellow King's men, marshalled by Sir John Peel. Gardening also gave him great pleasure throughout the years.

He married Jean Fairhurst, an ophthalmologist, in 1955. His eldest son is a general practitioner, King's trained, and his younger son is a space scientist with NASA in Houston.

He had an enthralling and satisfying life, and died of colon cancer, aged 69, on 29 March 2002. He had used up most of his nine lives and just ran out of luck.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from John Pryor].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England