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Obituary: Sir George Pinker

KCVO FRCS FRCOG

It is a privilege to be able to pay my respects to Sir George Pinker who served this College so well as Treasurer, Vice President and finally as President. The first, I believe, to hold all three offices.

I was lucky enough to know him for the last 27 years – initially as his SR and later as a friend and colleague.

Obstetrician, gynaecologist, royal accoucheur, diplomat, teacher, role model, philanthropist, skier, sailor, walker, opera lover, devoted husband, son, brother and father of four, he was a man of many parts, all of which he played in a quiet, unassuming manner.

George Douglas Pinker was born in Calcutta in 1924 and came to England aged four. He completed his education at Reading Grammar School before taking up his medical studies at St Mary's Paddington in 1942, an institution to which he remained forever loyal.

His first contact with royalty was when he sang the role of Pish Tush in the Mikado in 1948, a performance, which would lead to an offer from the D'Oyley Carte Company to join them.

In the audience were the two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. Little did they know that the handsome, young medical student with the fine baritone voice would one day play a vital role in both their lives!

He quickly obtained MRCOG and FRCS and was appointed Obstetric and Gynaecological consultant at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington in 1958, a post that he held until 1989. He later held posts at the Middlesex, Bolingbroke and Queen Charlotte's and King Edward VII Hospitals.

He was appointed Obstetrician and Gynaecologist to the Royal Household in 1973 – at the age of 48 – the youngest ever to hold the post. In this role he delivered nine Royal babies with great skill and the discretion, which was his trademark. He was the first holder of this post to insist that confinements took place in hospital.

He was practically invisible to the press and never, ever made any public comment regarding his royal patients. It was even rumoured that he kept full Arab dress in 96 Harley Street, and would put it on and slip out, past the waiting paparazzi, who never gave a second glance to the slightly tubby, Middle-Eastern gentleman striding off down the road – although they might have thought twice if they had observed him getting into his rather shabby old Rover filled with enormous piles of notes, held together with rubber bands.

George was very committed to College affairs and served as Treasurer from 1970 to 1977 and as Vice President from 1980 to 1983.

As President of the College from 1987 to 1990 he was, as ever, a safe pair of hands, the ultimate diplomat, able to find a solution to the trickiest of problems. Some would say he avoided controversy but he was a superb ambassador and role model for our profession, and significantly the last but one non academic to hold this office in the College – do I hear cries of "shame"?

One of his greatest achievements was to found Birthright - now Wellbeing of Women, the charitable arm of this college – and to persuade Princess Diana to its Patron. The charity flourished under her patronage and brought about heady days at 27 Sussex Place.

He was a safe obstetrician and gynaecologist and an excellent bedside teacher, and I was lucky enough to be appointed as his SR and he taught me so many valuable lessons.

I learnt from him always to keep the patient at the centre of any clinical situation – especially when teaching. He gave his patients his absolute individual attention and treated all women with the same dignity and respect whatever their circumstances. They all got as much time as was required. Even though he could be running an hour behind schedule, his patients did not mind. They knew that they too would get as much of his time as they needed.

George was not a flamboyant man and cared little for clothes but knew exactly what the occasion demanded. He kept a best suit for special occasions and always wore a college tie. On one Saturday morning I arrived at the Lindo Wing to see a patient, dressed in smart trousers and a jacket but with no tie. George was coming down the steps "Good Lord, Roger," he said, looking me up and down with that little smile of his "I had no idea you were on holiday".

George never carried a bleep, but as his SR, and with assistance from his devoted secretary Carolyn and his storm trooper midwives at the Lindo Wing, you always knew how to get hold of him – whether it was at Balmoral, Sandringham or more commonly Covent Garden. The House Manager at Covent Garden was usually aware of George's seat number and occasionally he was summoned just likely at the right moment. There was one night however when the call came through during the interval. The Crush Bar was heaving as always so the House Manager banged his cane and shouted "does anyone here know Mr George Pinker?" A hundred women raised their hands!

He was a member of the Gynaecological Travellers and served as its secretary for seven years and was arguably responsible for making it one of the most significant travelling clubs in the UK, with a remarkable record in producing RCOG Presidents and Council members, nine of whom are here today.

Married to Dorothy in 1952, and with four children, they kept open house. Hospitality at Medley with its beautiful garden was legendary, with good company, fine wine and often silly games. Dorothy was always at his side at all the social functions great and small which became his lot – she was his huge support and despite frequently muttering "Oh George!!!" about how he really ought to lose a bit of weight, she could usually be persuaded to provide him with his beloved pecan and butterscotch tart.

Their home was filled with artefacts and souvenirs from overseas visitors – he and Dorothy loved travelling and it is a bitter irony that one of their post retirement wishes was to travel again to many of the places they had visited while representing the College.

George was honoured by degrees from the USA, South Africa, and Australia. He received a personal knighthood, KCVO, from the Queen in 1990. His final role before retirement was as President of the Royal Society of Medicine.

He was a Wagnerian through and through, loved skiing in Val d'Isère with a passion, and was hell to keep up with on his short scorpion skis. He was an enthusiastic gardener, sailor and fell walker.

In addition to his professional achievements he was also Vice President of the London Choral Society and a member of the Council of the Winston Churchill Trust. He was also a confident sailor and fell walker. He was also President of the St Mary's Music Society. How he found the time for all this is a mystery to me!

On his retirement, a surprise party was held for him at the Grosvenor House, over a thousand women came to honour him – including two queens, one princess, two duchesses and countless countesses – all of them grateful patients. Sir David Frost who was one of his greatest fans did a ‘This is Your Life'. It was obvious that for George, his greatest achievement was that of his family, who gathered that day to honour him.

Sadly, the many plans that he and Dorothy had for retirement were cruelly hijacked by the onset of severe and progressive medical problems. Like everything else in life, George faced these problems stoically and with good humour. He never complained and was even able to joke that "With Dorothy being all body and no brain and me being all brain and no body, we just about make up one rather good human being".

Dorothy died in 2003 and George remained in his beloved Cotswolds in the hands of his loving family and devoted carers. It was said at his funeral that his diary during the week before his death, was full!

He died with his favourite Wagner playing, surrounded by his family.

He was truly a remarkable man – I owe him a great deal for all he did for me and for my family. He inspired his SR's or George Pinker's "boys" as we were sometimes known – to become good, caring doctors. His enthusiasm led me to a love of opera, of skiing, of entertaining, of travel and of pecan and butterscotch tart. I loved him greatly and will miss him very much, as will his family, friends, colleagues and of course this College.

Roger Marwood, May 2007