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Obituary: Charles Primrose Douglas

17/2/1921 – 23/8/2005

Charles Primrose Douglas was born on 17th February 1921. He was educated at Loretto School in Edinburgh. His preclinical education was in Cambridge at Peterhouse and then his clinical training was in Edinburgh, qualifying in 1943. He represented both universities in tennis and hockey. He was a house surgeon in Bolton. He then saw active service in the Navy in the Pacific, initially on the destroyer HMS Tenacious and then HMS Belfast in 1946. He was demobbed in 1947. His postgraduate training was in Edinburgh, then Ayrshire Central, then at St James’ in Leeds and then Glasgow. He spent 1957 on a William Waldorf Astor Foundation Scholarship in the United States, mainly at Duke. He made many friends in America, including George Wilbanks, of whom more later. His time in the States led to many professorial visits to the UK of former teachers and colleagues who gave many popular lectures.

His senior career was in three parts, in the West Indies, the Royal Free Hospital and finally Cambridge.

Professor Douglas’ first academic post was in 1959 as Senior Lecturer in Jamaica at University College of the West Indies, where he helped found the first academic department of obstetrics and gynaecology. He introduced the first formalised training and made a huge contribution to improving the standards of obstetrics and gynaecology in the region.

In 1965 Charles moved to become Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Royal Free Hospital when it was still in Gray’s Inn. During this time, he was awarded Fellowship of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and also of the American College of Surgeons. He was co-author of “Diseases of the Vulva” in 1972.

In 1976 Professor Douglas moved to Cambridge at the time of the opening of the new Clinical School. He was in this post for 12 years. During this time he set up an excellent teaching programme for both undergraduates and postgraduates. He arranged twice-weekly tutorials and regular teaching ward-rounds. He was an experienced and good clinician, and was an expert on benign vulval disease. In 1981 he became President of the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease. He set up the regional colposcopy service. He was an accomplished vaginal surgeon. Although his academic strengths lay with undergraduate training, Professor Douglas was a great fosterer and enabler of research in the department. He took his fair share of on-call commitments and he was very supportive of his trainees - even well into his sixties he was regularly on labour ward in the middle of the night bailing out registrars in difficulty. He was extremely popular with colleagues and had a quiet, gentle manner. He retired in 1988 at 67 years of age.

During his time in the Far East he visited Australia in 1946 where he met Angela in Sydney, who at the time was a veterinary student. After a whirlwind romance they were engaged within a fortnight. They had four surviving children, but many problems with rhesus disease. Two of his children followed him into medicine and have shown their father’s dedication. Fiona works in the Northern Territory, Australia. His son, also Charles, has worked for a medical charity and was captured by rebels in Eritrea, but happily released unharmed. He is now a public health physician, in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Charles was immensely proud of his children and six grandchildren. He and Angela were remarkable hosts and held many popular parties and dinners.

Professor Douglas became a Member of the RCOG in 1966 and was elevated to the Fellowship in 1980. He was a member of College Council from 1980-1986. He served on F & E from 1984-6, the Fellowship Selection Committee 1979-82, the Hospital Recognition and Examinations Committee 1971-5 and the Postgraduate Committee 1969-1976. He was Regional College Advisor. In Cambridge, Professor Douglas was elected as a Professorial Fellow of Emmanuel College in 1979.

Professor Douglas had a comprehensive knowledge of horses and racing. Each day began with him reading the Racing Post, and then ringing his bookie. He was a fine jazz pianist, playing entirely by ear. He also wore a monocle, which would drop out to great dramatic effect whenever Charles expressed surprise. Many days would end with a dram of Scotch with one of his colleagues in his office. His handwriting was described by a colleague as “the worst I’ve seen outside an asylum”.

As I said earlier, one of Professor Douglas’s colleagues from the States was George Wilbanks. Charles picked him up from Cambridge railway station, and had considerable trouble opening the boot, the car door and getting the car started. Always a very fast driver, on this occasion he drove home at such break-neck speed that his passenger feared for his life. He tore up the drive, came to an abrupt stop, fitted and keeled over the steering wheel unconscious. He had had a significant stroke, and spent two weeks in Addenbrooke’s. Fortunately he made a full recovery.

Charles and Angela initially retired to Newmarket, and, in 1996, moved to Bathurst in New South Wales, again close to a racecourse. He was invited back to Cambridge for his 80th birthday party. He was fairly physically frail, with a Zimmer frame, but apparently mentally intact. However he sadly told his friends that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He died of old age on 23rd August 2005.

John Latimer, Members’ Representative on Council for Eastern Region