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Biographical entry Wilmshurst, Colin Cyril (1932 - 2016)

MRCS LRCP 1962; FRCS 1992.

29 October 1932
Chislehurst, Kent
17 May 2016
Vascular surgeon


Colin Wilmshurst was a consultant vascular surgeon at Torbay Hospital. He was born in Chislehurst in Kent on 29 October 1932, the oldest of three boys. His father was a Metropolitan Police officer and his mother a teacher. He was educated at a local grammar school near Orpington.

After school, he carried out his National Service: Colin told amusing stories of how he accidentally found himself in the Royal Navy, having presented himself for the Royal Air Force. In December 1952, he was a midshipman on HMS Implacable, and his midshipman's log makes fascinating and amusing reading. His escapades demonstrate an adaptability and resourcefulness that would clearly stand him in good stead in his subsequent medical career. His Naval career really took off when he was posted to smaller ships, and his skill as a navigator meant that he was soon the navigation officer for 232 Minesweeping Squadron. Colin was clearly good at it and rewrote the navigation teaching manual, which remained in use for many years. He spent a dangerous year in 1955 clearing wartime mines from the Dutch coast, and was seconded from the Navy to the Decca company to draw up all the English Channel navigation charts. He was offered a full-time Royal Naval commission, but had already decided on a medical career.

He was accepted at Guy's, and qualified MRCS LRCP in 1962. He did house jobs in Kent and developed an interest in vascular surgery, and moved to Torbay Hospital in south Devon in 1964. Soon afterwards, he spent two years in Toronto and a short time in Miami improving his vascular surgical skills. On returning to the UK, he helped pioneer the techniques of autologous vein grafts in this country, and also performed numerous procedures using synthetic grafts in treating peripheral vascular and aortic disease. He worked with Michael Gardner, Charles Clyne and Roger Fox in Torquay, and contributed to publications such as Vascular surgery: current questions (Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1991) and The venous system in health and disease (Amsterdam, Oxford, IOS Press, c.2001). He was an active member of the Joint Vascular Research Group (UK).

Outside work, Colin had many other talents. An exceptional photographer, he had invested in his first 35mm camera in 1956, his earliest subjects being Naval ships. He quickly became interested in wildlife photography and would spend hours taking pictures of birds such as kingfishers, peregrine falcons and their young. He was involved in recording the building and launching of the ill-fated racing catamaran Team Philips, and made a number of medical teaching and instructional films for Torbay Hospital.

He became an authority on British butterflies and their habitats, and for many years was a member of the Dartmoor Preservation Association. He was an avid fly fisherman.

Colin was a popular and respected surgeon among patients and colleagues alike. The writer worked with him for over 20 years, and never heard anyone speak ill of him, and never saw him angry. He was a selfless man who went through his life helping others. As his own health failed, he remained uncomplaining, stoical and philosophical to the end. His wife Ella predeceased him, as did his daughter Sandra, a nurse. He died on 17 May 2016 aged 83 and was survived by his longstanding partner, Jane, and his son, Guy.

Peter Densham

The Royal College of Surgeons of England