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Biographical entry Pendower, John Edward Hicks (1927 - 2016)

MB BS London 1950; MRCS LRCP 1950; FRCS 1955.

6 August 1927
8 February 2016
Colorectal surgeon and General surgeon


John Pendower was a consultant surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital, London and Mayday Hospital, Croydon. He was born on 6 August 1927, less than ten years after the end of the First World War; his father had been a teenage infantryman on the Somme. He grew up through turbulent and exciting times, and came through his education remarkably well considering that he moved school five times during the Second World War. For one period of three months during the bombing of London he slept every night in his family's underground air raid shelter at the bottom of their garden in Bexley, listening to the anti-aircraft guns firing all night. In the summer of 1944 a flying bomb destroyed the school's science block and he persuaded his father to let him go to university to study medicine aged 17.

In 1950 John qualified from the University of London, taking honours both in medicine and surgery, having trained first at King's College and then at Charing Cross Hospital, both in the Strand. Thereafter he took his FRCS in 1955 and his early surgical career began. After further training and a couple of spells in Malaya and Cyprus as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he was appointed as a consultant surgeon and spent most of his career at the old and the Charing Cross hospitals for 34 years, and at the Mayday in Croydon for 25 years as a general surgeon.

In 1959 John became engaged to a nurse, Kate Tuohy, and not long after he had to leave for Boston, Massachusetts, to undertake the Harvey Cushing fellowship at Harvard Medical School. He could not bear to be parted from his fiancée and called for her to join him in Boston, where they were married on 9 January 1960. Kate and John spent a happy but penniless time in the US, eating from paper plates, until they returned to the UK and the first of their three children was born in July 1961. Thereafter Kate 'retired' from nursing to look after the family and run John's private practice to enable him to dedicate his working life to medicine; for patients a reassuring conversation with Kate was almost as good as having spoken to the great man himself. When Kate tragically died in 1987, at the age of only 51, John described her loss as 'a pickaxe through the heart'.

John always felt that the law was the other profession he could have followed, so at the height of his medical career he studied to qualify as a barrister and was called to the Bar (Inner Temple) in 1972. Subsequently, he always enjoyed involvement with the law when it crossed over with medicine and was a long-term member of the Croydon Medico Legal Society.

His interest in the dual professions assisted him in undergraduate teaching and he had great skills as a chairman. So, between 1979 and 1984 John was vice dean of the Charing Cross Hospital Medical School and later sub dean of the newly-formed Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School between 1984 and 1987, an examiner in surgery for London University and a member of Hammersmith and Fulham (subsequently Riverside) Health Authority between 1983 and 1990.

From 1989 to 1993 John was happy for his career to culminate in his appointment as dean of the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School, having experienced the merger with the Westminster Medical School and Her Majesty The Queen's opening of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, now part of his domain as dean of the combined medical schools. At this pinnacle of his career, he led the medical school, taught students and continued his duties as a surgeon.

He had a great sense of humour and was always willing to share his wit and wisdom. When the name of the new medical school was being debated he vetoed 'Westminster and Charing Cross' on the basis that no medical school of his would have the initials WC; it duly became CXWMS, Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School.

John was an inspiration to his students and always seemed to find the time to teach however busy he was. A former student recently said: '…as an operating surgeon [he] was a master. As a teacher the best I have met. He had a system for everything - pragmatic, organised and above all easy to follow and to remember. He was more than an influence professionally; he was a hugely honourable man who inspired others to reflect his principles in their lives beyond surgery.'

Perhaps John was close to the truth when he claimed to lack an aesthetic imagination, always wearing his immaculate trademark suits for work with black jacket, grey pinstripe trousers and stiff collared white shirts - a 'uniform' he had worn at school and never changed. He was, however, famous for some individual accessories, particularly his pom-pom hats (the originals knitted by his mother), worn when driving his MG sports car to work, almost always with the roof down, covering the most magnificent head of hair, which he kept to the end.

He retired from all of his duties as a consultant surgeon, teacher and dean of the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School in 1993, and his portrait was painted and hangs as an inspiration for those who follow him. Apart from working as chairman of the Sargent Cancer Charity for Children, having also been a special trustee at Charing Cross, much to everyone's surprise he really did give it all up. Subsequently, for the next 22 years he made up for time lost in his busy professional life. Having remarried, he travelled, spending long holidays in Spain and watched the progress of his grandchildren, forging individual relationships with each. Although he gave up playing squash and skiing, he pursued his interest in history, visiting the battlefields of the Somme and Waterloo, walking (long after his three Irish setters were gone) and entertaining friends. He spent the last decade living next door to family on Box Hill in Surrey and thought it wonderful that he could wake up in the morning and see for 35 miles out of the bedroom window without lifting his head from the pillow.

John described his life in the medical profession as 'the best of lives'. He reached the top of his profession and dedicated the greater part of his life to others. He remained sharp and fit throughout his retirement, and died in his sleep on 8 February 2016 at age of 88.

John leaves a wife Paulette, a son and two daughters, Mark, Jane and Katie, by his first wife Kate, eight grandchildren and a great grandson.

Jane Pendower

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Mark Pendower, Katie Pendower, Barry M Jones and Roger M Greenhalgh].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England