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Biographical entry Slaney, Sir Geoffrey (1922 - 2016)

KBE 1984; MB ChB Birmingham 1947; FRCS 1953; MS Illinois 1956; ChM Birmingham 1961; Hon FRCSI 1983; Hon FRACS 1983; Hon FCSSL 1984; Hon FACS 1985; Hon FCSSA 1986; Hon FRCS Canada 1986; Hon FFARCS 1987.

  • Image of Slaney, Sir Geoffrey
19 September 1922
West Hallam, Derbyshire
29 January 2016
Gastrointestinal surgeon and Vascular surgeon


Sir Geoffrey Slaney was Barling professor of surgery and head of department at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham University, and a former president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He was born in West Hallam, Derbyshire, on 19 September 1922, the elder son of Richard and Lois Slaney. His paternal grandfather was a master builder who established a family business employing all four of his sons. In 1932, after his grandfather's early death, the family moved to Codsall, near Wolverhampton, where Lois taught the piano and Richard worked in the textile industry. Geoff was awarded a scholarship to Brewood Grammar School, where he became head boy. During his teenage years he was a committed member of the Boy Scouts.

Although Geoff had decided on a surgical career soon after starting senior school, the science teacher had joined the armed forces, so in his first year at Birmingham University he had to read physics. He enjoyed the subject, especially since the department was engaged in top secret wartime Government research. He declined an opportunity to continue with this and entered medical school with a scholarship in 1941. During the war he served in the university's Home Guard battalion, taking on duties with the Fire Service. He was awarded both junior and senior surgical prizes and qualified with a distinction in surgery in 1947. He spent the following year as a house surgeon at Birmingham General Hospital, conspiring with the ward sister to introduce intravenous fluids, unbeknown to his chief. In 1948 he started National Service as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps at Catterick in Yorkshire. He then became a registrar at the London Hospital and in Coventry, where he met his future wife, Jo.

In 1955 he was offered a one-year post at Cook County Hospital in Chicago with Warren Cole, the preeminent American academic surgeon of the day. In Chicago he first saw vascular surgery, considered futuristic on this side of the Atlantic at the time, and obtained the degree of master of surgery (Illinois). On returning to Birmingham, he became a lecturer in the department of surgery led by Alan Stammers. He was influenced greatly by Brian Brooke, both in technical innovation and open direct dialogue with patients and relatives. He was promoted to senior lecturer in 1959, to a chair in 1966 and to the Barling professorship and head of department in 1971.

Geoff initially trained in gastrointestinal surgery and continued this interest throughout his career, but it was in the new specialty of vascular surgery that he achieved national and international recognition. He and his close friend and colleague Frank Ashton worked together to develop a vascular unit for five million people and received referrals from all over the UK and abroad. Despite their academic activities, Geoff and Frank maintained full-time clinical commitments and personally provided an onerous 24-hour emergency vascular service for the five million population of the West Midlands. They presented and published their surgical experience widely. They trained many vascular surgeons for the region and throughout the UK, including several current academic leaders, creating one of the most formidable diasporas in UK surgery.

Geoff embraced the national and international surgical scene with enthusiasm and success. He acquired 14 visiting professorships throughout the world, gave around 160 eponymous lectures, received seven honorary fellowships, edited surgical journals and wrote numerous book chapters and scientific papers. He particularly enjoyed examining for nine universities, and had a long-standing commitment to promoting racial equality in surgical training in South Africa, which he visited as an external examiner over many years. His academic achievements were important to him, but he remained primarily a clinician. Because of his standing he received many referrals of difficult surgical problems, which he managed with patience, sensitivity and realism, taking much of the responsibility from the referring colleague. His patient care was personal and he was regularly in theatre or on his ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at nights and weekends. The Christmas ward round with his firm, often in fancy dress, boosted morale of patients and staff in a manner no longer seen.

It was inevitable that Geoff would involve himself with the Royal College of Surgeons. There was a West Midlands tradition of Council membership, with several vice presidents from the region, but there had been only one president and that in 1864. Being known nationally, respected and well-liked, he was elected in 1975 to Council, which elected him to the presidency in December 1982. His predecessor, Sir Alan Parks, had died in office and he had to take over with no warning during the meeting in which he was elected. He was a popular and successful president, leading a major and essential reform of the career structure of surgeons in training. He was invested as a KBE in 1984. During his presidency, the West Midlands provided simultaneously and uniquely the presidents of two other Royal Colleges, the Physicians and the Pathologists.

His commitment to the College extended beyond surgery. He was a keen sportsman with great enthusiasm for rugby and cricket, and was very pleased to make 55 not out for the Council cricket team at Down House when he was 62.

Geoff Slaney was a commanding figure in the West Midlands and the country, with enormous charisma contributed to by his height and good looks. Nevertheless, he was a friendly and approachable man, whose advice was sought widely on many topics beyond the realms of surgery. He had absolute integrity and never promised anything that was not delivered. He inspired many surgeons who followed him and was one of the great surgical leaders of his generation.

Although he retired from clinical work at 65, he continued for many years to edit journals and participate in College activities. In retirement he enjoyed fishing in the Wye valley and watching sport. He developed an interest in sculpture and in his usual style studied art at Dudley College at the age of 80. He retained his intellect throughout his life and in old age could still recall long passages of Shakespeare he had learnt at school. He was happily married to Jo, a former radiographer, for 60 years. He often commented that his success was shared and only possible because of her constant support. Although his father died young, Geoff remained close to his mother Lois until her death just before her 105th birthday. He never forgot her assistance during his undergraduate and early surgical training. He was very proud of his two daughters, Penny and Sarah, consultants in vascular radiology and clinical genetics, and his son, Tim, a principal engineer for Jaguar Land Rover. A main joy in retirement was spending time with his grandchildren, Ellie, Michael, James and Dan, watching their progress and achievements in music, sport, at school and at university.

Penny Slaney
Sarah Slaney
John Black

The Royal College of Surgeons of England