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Obituary: Derek Tacchi

1925 – 2018

Derek Tacchi, who died of bowel cancer in September at the age of 93, was born in Sunderland in 1925.  In his early childhood the family moved around the country, eventually returning to Wearside where he won a scholarship to Bede Grammar School, where he was Head Boy.  In 1943, he entered Newcastle Medical School, then part of Kings College, University of Durham, graduating in 1948.  After pre-registration house-posts he undertook his two years National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, spending most this time in what was then Malaya, amidst the “troubled times”, attaining the rank of Major at only 26 years.  In later life he was to become a Colonel in the Territorial Army.

In 1951, Derek then commenced his training in his chosen speciality, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, in the Northern Region, with his base in Newcastle.  He took MRCOG in 1955, being awarded the College’s Gold Medal for the most outstanding candidate.  Thereafter he continued his training in Newcastle and after their marriage in 1958, Dorothy (a distinguished Consultant in Family Planning) and he went off to Chicago.  Derek’s research at the prestigious University of Illinois became the basis of his MD and several important publications.

After a consultant post at Dryburn Hospital in Durham, in the early 1960s Derek moved to the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) and the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital (PMMH) in Newcastle.  He was an astute, up-to-date and compassionate clinician, renowned for his operative skills. He valued everyone who worked with him, especially respecting the nursing and midwifery staff and all supporting and technical staff associated with the speciality.  His purpose was always the welfare and care of his patients and their families who were made to feel special no matter how trivial or complex the issues. An early advocate of evidence-based practice, he was a stickler for good history-taking and careful clinical examination before any further investigations.  His mantra was “Brains on, hands on, then scans on,” not the other way round.  He is also credited with introducing laparoscopy not only into gynaecological practice but into Newcastle and the Northern Region: his innovation and practice was summed up in his 1976 book “Ovarian Gynaecology”.  Professor Steve Robson, remembers an outstanding gynae surgeon, a pioneer of vaginal hysterectomy, and an obstetrician with a mastership of Kielland’s forceps.

For 7 years Derek Tacchi served as College Treasurer, bringing his excellent administrative skills and leadership to the College and to the Gynaecological Visiting Society, which then included Callum MacNaughton (a President of this College), John Loudon and Charlie Whitfield.

In retirement, Derek became a scholar, researching and publishing “Childbirth in Newcastle upon Tyne: 1760-1990” to much acclaim, and contributing to the 2006 centenary publication “100 years of the RVI” co-edited by John, Lord Walton and Sir Miles Irving.  He also supported Dorothy in her role as President of the Durham and Newcastle Medical Graduates Association.

John Davison, from whose tribute at Derek’s funeral in September these words are taken, remembers a colleague and friend with admiration, affection and gratitude and also “with delight”.  His tribute ended with these words of Florence Nightingale  

“Enough, if something from our hands has the power to live and move and serve the future hour”.