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Obituary: Errol Mendus Edwards

Former Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Cheltenham General Hospital (b 18 September 1921; q London 1943; MS, FRCOG), died peacefully at home in Cheltenham on 11 February 2012.

Born and brought up in Sutton, Errol Mendus Edwards came from a family who were members of the vibrant London Welsh community. His father, who had left Wales to open a draper's store, held fast to his Welsh roots providing work for friends and relatives from West Wales, employing them as housekeepers and staff for his business. North Pembrokeshire continued to be a very dear second home to Errol and his family throughout his life.

Educated at St Paul's School in London, both Errol and his brother Elwyn went on to train as doctors at St Thomas' Hospital. During the London bombings of the Second World War, the room they shared was destroyed by the bomb that fell on St Thomas'. Both being out at the time, each thought the other had died. Immediately after gaining MRCS and LRCP in 1943, Errol was keen to take part in the war effort and, despite his father's disapproval, signed up as a medical officer with the Royal Army Medical Corps and deployed to India. Brought up on Kipling and stories of the Empire, he thus fulfilled a childhood dream to experience life in India. His exotic and sometimes hair-raising adventures furnished him with vivid memories and anecdotes that he described in imaginatively illustrated letters sent home to his family. His time as a medic in India was a highlight, and memories of that great adventure remained with him for the rest of his life.

Errol returned to post-war Britain to St Thomas' Hospital in 1948 where he worked as Clinical Assistant for three months, gaining his MBBS before becoming a House Surgeon at St Luke's Guildford for one year, followed by six months at the Royal Northern Hospital in London when he obtained his D(Obst)RCOG. This was followed by two years as Registrar to Mr Leslie Williams at the Fulham Maternity Hospital in 1950.

In 1953, he gained his MRCOG and took up a Registrar post at United Hospitals Bristol, becoming a Senior Registrar in 1955. During his time as Senior Registrar he was seconded to Plymouth. Between 1956 and 1960, he was appointed Lecturer at the University of Bristol with status as Senior Registrar in the Bristol Clinical Area.

In 1960, he gained an MS for work in Genital Tuberculosis and was appointed Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist for the Gloucestershire area in 1961, and later based his practice in Cheltenham. Here, under his influence, the then St Paul's Maternity Hospital developed national reputations for having the lowest rates of Caesarean sections in the country, and the highest rates for breastfeeding. A respected, though sometimes controversial figure, he promoted natural childbirth and breastfeeding, and his stance earned him particular respect, recognition and support from the National Childbirth Trust and the Royal College of Midwives, who welcomed his approach and with whom he was a popular lecturer, speaker and examiner. He was an examiner for the Central Midwives Board, a member of the Society for the Study of Fertility, and a member also of the South West of England Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society. He was a Fellow of the Birmingham and Midland Obstetrics and Gynaecological Society. During his professional life in Cheltenham, he pioneered laparoscopic gynaecological surgery, and made FRCOG in 1969 in recognition for his work.

Subsequent to retirement in 1982, Errol embraced life with equal vigour. He became an active member of his local Probus Club, took to sailing around Britain and cruising across the Channel, and latterly enjoyed Sunday afternoons on his boat on the river at Tewkesbury Cruising and Sailing Club. He was an enthusiastic member of the Cheltenham Festival Society, taking on the role of Treasurer for several years, and the popular annual garden party at his home became a permanent fixture on the Festival programme.

One day, shortly before retirement, he proposed to swap places with a rather reluctant patient. A bargain was struck, whereby Errol would take her place in her band, if she promised to come in and have her operation. Thus the surgeon exchanged his green operating gown for a red shirt, took to the road with his piano accordion and became a member of the Cotswold Travellers Square Dance Band.

Errol's Christian faith was the cornerstone of his life. Born into a Welsh non-conformist Methodist family, he became an Anglican when he married. When he first moved to Cheltenham, he joined the congregation of Christ Church and took an active part in church life, serving as a sidesman and churchwarden.

Brought up and educated to be a doctor, by his strict Victorian father, he nevertheless secretly harboured a dream to become a cathedral organist. Thus in his retirement he transferred his considerable skills as a pianist to the organ. He took lessons, studied music theory, practised endlessly, passed many exams and eagerly joined the Gloucestershire Organists' Association. With fellow enthusiasts, he regularly took trips and tours to famous organs in churches and cathedrals around Britain and Europe. Having fulfilled his childhood dream, he was organist at several churches in the Cheltenham area, notably St Nicholas in Ashchurch, reluctantly retiring aged 89.

Errol Mendus Edwards died peacefully, at home with his family, aged 91.

He is survived by his wife Hetty; children - Rosalind, Jonathan, Deirdre and Guy; and grandchildren - Max, James, Elinor, Georgina, Florence and Llywelyn. A fitting memorial service was held at Tewkesbury Abbey on Thursday 1st March 2012 to which many family, friends, former colleagues and patients came to celebrate his life.

Written by Deirdre Edwards and Elinor Haf Mendus Edwards