Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Wylie, William Derek (1918 - 1998)

MRCS 1943; FRCS by election 1972; MB BChir Cambridge 1943; DA 1944; MA 1945; LRCP 1943; MRCP 1945; FFA RCS 1953; FRCP 1967; Hon FFA RACS 1984; Hon FFA RCS Ireland 1971.

30 September 1998


William Derek Wylie was one of the leading anaesthetists of his generation. Born in Huddersfield in 1918, he was educated at Uppingham, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and St Thomas's Hospital, where he qualified in 1943. Initially he intended to become a physician and held junior appointments as casualty officer, house physician and resident anaesthetist, during which time he passed the MRCP.

In 1945, he joined the RAFVR and served in Palestine and Aden before demobilisation in 1947. Two vacancies for honorary anaesthetists at St Thomas's were advertised in 1946 and Wylie was encouraged to apply for one of these. It meant giving up his physician's training, but there was no financial security for a young physician in those days, and Wylie, who had recently married and with a child on the way, decided to accept the post, even though his experience of the specialty was minimal. He returned to St Thomas's and started work in 1948.

He realised that it was vital to train young doctors to become the new anaesthetists for the emerging NHS. Developing surgical techniques called for more advanced anaesthesia than could be provided part-time by GPs. At St Thomas's, together with Harry Churchill-Davidson, he built up the department of anaesthetics, notable for its research work into muscle relaxant drugs (many of their experiments being carried out on themselves) and for their textbook A practice of anaesthesia (London, Lloyd-Luke Medical Books, 1960), which became the standard work.

He was Dean of the Faculty of Anaesthetists, for which the College elected him FRCS in 1972. He was President of his section of the Royal Society of Medicine and later of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, at a time when the move towards an independent college of anaesthetists was under way - a move which he strongly supported. He was one of the steering group of the confidential enquiry into perioperative deaths associated with anaesthesia. He was Dean of St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, deeply involved in the selection and training of students. His other interest was in medico-legal matters: he served the Council of the Medical Defence Union for 30 years and was President for six. Many honorary degrees and prestigious medals came his way.

A quiet, friendly and approachable man, his firmly-held views derived from careful thought and long experience were always courteously expressed. There can be few people who have held so many high offices of whom it can be said that they made no enemies and offended few. He married Margaret Toms, a Nightingale nurse, by whom he had two sons, David and Anthony (who predeceased him in 1984) and two daughters, Janet and Sheila. There are six grandchildren - Duncan, Alex, David, Joanna, Antonia and Charlie. He died on 30 September 1998.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1998 317 1392, with portrait; The Times 29 October 1998; information from Aileen K Adams].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England