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Biographical entry Cothay, Delia Margaret Helen Hernaman (1921 - 2016)

MRCS LRCP 1951; MB BS London 1951; FRCS 1960; FRCS Edin 1960

23 November 1921
Sunderland, County Durham
2 March 2016
Orthopaedic surgeon and Trauma surgeon


Margaret Cothay was an orthopaedic and trauma surgeon at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford, in charge of the accident and emergency department. She was born in Sunderland, County Durham, on 23 November 1921, the daughter of Frank Hernaman Cothay, a mining engineer, and Helen Cothay née Osbourne. She spent part of her childhood in Nigeria, and was educated at Sunderland High School for Girls and then Lillesden School, Hawkhurst, Kent.

From 1941 to 1945, she was a shorthand typist at the Inter Services Research Bureau, Baker Street, London, working in the French and Norwegian sections. During this period, she attended night classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic, studying for the first MB. Discharged from war service, she then spent a year studying physiology at Bedford College. She later attended King's College and Westminster Medical School, where she was awarded the Chadwick prize in surgery.

She was appointed as a house surgeon to Sir Stanford Cade and Robert Cox at Westminster Hospital. This was followed by an appointment as house physician at St Mary's Hospital, Isle of Wight. She went on to senior house officer posts at the Royal Northern Hospital, London, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore and the Birmingham Accident Hospital. This involved a wide range of surgical specialties and culminated in working with Sir Denis Browne at Great Ormond Street. At this time, she was studying for her primary and final fellowship.

She then worked as a registrar in Surrey and Hampshire, centred at the Farnham and Lord Mayor Treloar hospitals. This was a very busy period, with clinics, ward rounds and operations in numerous hospitals, dealing with a wide variety of musculoskeletal problems, both elective and trauma. It culminated in the post of senior casualty officer at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford, which she held for 12 years.

In 1972 Margaret Cothay was appointed as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon in charge of the accident and emergency department at the Royal Surrey County Hospital. This was an important period for medicine at Guildford. She played a key role in the design of the accident and emergency department in the new hospital, and when The Queen, accompanied by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, opened the new Royal Surrey County Hospital in February 1981, Margaret Cothay personally welcomed her to her department.

The two high points in her interest in trauma were the Sutton Coldfield derailment, near Birmingham, in 1955 and the Guildford bombing in 1974. She was at the centre of activity during both of these disasters, and she passed on the knowledge she gained to the next generation.

Her research interests centred on brittle bones, bone pain, malignant changes developing in osteomyelitis and fractures in children involving the medial humeral epiphysis, work which led to articles published in orthopaedic journals.

Behind a reserved front, Margaret Cothay was a very active and caring surgeon. She had high standards for herself and for those in her team. She was very disciplined and correct, but always available and charming. With multiple complex injuries, she was a good delegator.

Margaret Cothay never married. Her home was surrounded by a garden with a rich diversity of trees, shrubs and flowers, and she was a very practical and knowledgeable president of the local garden club. She enjoyed cross stitch and needlework, at which she was outstanding. She also became a skilled carpenter. Overall, she contributed much to her local community, especially the parish church. She had many friends, but was a very private person.

Margaret Cothay died on 2 March 2016 at the age of 94.

John Older

Sources used to compile this entry: [Personal knowledge and information from George Puddephatt, Mary Parrott and Joanne Baddeley].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England