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Obituary: Geoffrey Victor Price Chamberlain

Tribute to Geoffrey Victor Price Chamberlain (President RCOG 1993-1994)

Geoffrey Victor Price Chamberlain – better known as “Bodger” – was born in 1930 in Cardiff. After early education at Llandaff Cathedral School and Crowbridge Grammar School he entered Medical School at University College London. After qualifying he held various residencies at, among others the Royal Postgraduate Medical School (now the Hammersmith Hospital a part of Imperial Healthcare), Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and Kings College Hospital.

In 1966 he was awarded a Fullbright scholarship and an Eden Fellowship at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to pursue his research into fetal respiration at George Washington University Medical School in the USA. The following year he returned to Britain and was appointed consultant to Queen Charlottes Maternity Hospital and Chelsea Hospital for women. In parallel, he continued research running a survey of all births in Great Britain in one week in 1970, sponsored by the National Birthday Trust. The results of this, published in 1974 and 1976, led to many important directives for change in antenatal and intrapartum practice.

In 1982 he was appointed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at St. Georges Hospital Medical School in London where he headed a busy department for thirteen years, teaching medical students and conducting research in addition to his clinical work. He was an inspiring, enthusiastic and exceptional teacher not only in the classroom, ward and theatre but also in the many textbooks he wrote and / or edited. Several titles continue to this day – Ten teachers, lecture notes in O&G, ABC of antenatal care, Turnbull’s obstetrics. Many have written to me about the help and support he gave to them including the amazing pass rate of his MRCOG revision course which he insisted all at the Chelsea should attend. He was an advocate for more women to become obstetricians and gynaecologists which has been much appreciated by many colleagues across the country including myself.

Meanwhile he served on the Council of the RCOG first as a member and later as a fellow’s representative. He was Editor in Chief of the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology for several years and was elected as President in 1993, a position he was so proud to attain. His generosity of spirit and refusal to see the weaker side of human nature led to him having to stand down as President one year later. This was very distressing for him and all who knew and admired him. He returned to St. Georges to resume his post teaching and writing until 1995. He is still remembered with great affection at St. Georges attested to by Sir Arulkumaran and his PA who recalls the family atmosphere of the department.

Working for Bodger was immense fun as well as being hard work. His office was always open in the evenings for a “little glass of claret”, or a trip to the Medical School bar where Geoffrey’s Jorum - a very large beer tankard (only a pint)– would be filled before he reached the bar followed by a highly entertaining few hours of storytelling. I remember laughter, booming voice, affection and learning a great deal of the “softer skills” of medicine. The other role of his registrar (remembered by most I have spoken to) was to make sure that he didn’t snore too loudly during lectures. Bodger was rather Pickwickian in shape and appeared to fall asleep within minutes; the art of gently nudging him as he started to snore had to be carefully judged so he was not startled. The most amazing thing was that he always roused himself as the speaker finished ready with the first and usually most probing and apposite question – he was never asleep just resting his eyes!

Following retirement at 65 he returned to his much loved Wales. Once settled there he joined the new Clinical Medical School of the University of Wales, Swansea and established the History of Medicine department.

Bodger always said that his wife Professor Jocelyn Chamberlain – herself a highly regarded academic epidemiologist - taught him all he knew about statistics and research methodology, They have 5 children and moved back to London to be nearer family and enjoy their 15 grandchildren as they grew.

Bodger continued to write but now mostly biographies of the great people who have shaped Obstetrics and Gynaecology culminating in the publication of his last book ‘from Witches to Wisdom – a history of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in the British Isles’. A truly epic tome which took three years and is a lasting tribute to a man that was larger than life, lived it to the full, never lost his enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge and understanding and will be sadly missed by all who knew him. May he rest in peace.

Diana Hamilton-Fairley
November 2014