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Obituary: Tom Lewis

On 27 May 1918 the Germans launched one of their most ferocious attacks on allied troops at the third battle of the Aisne. Over four million shells were fired with enormous effect and high mortality. On that same day Thomas Loftus Townshend Lewis was born in Hampstead to Neville and Theodosia Lewis. Neville, of Welsh descent, was South African and his wife Theo was a descendant of the Soloman family who had cared for Napoleon in exile on St Helena and whose kitchen table had been utilised to make Napoleon’s coffin. Theo’s father was a much respected business man in Dublin described by George Bernard Shaw, who had previously worked for him, as a pillar of the church, a pillar of the Royal Dublin Society and everything else that was pillarable in Dublin.

Although born in London, Tom regarded himself as South African of Welsh origin. Tom’s grandfather AJS Lewis was a civil servant, became Mayor of Cape Town and was ordained in the Anglican Church on retirement. His son, Neville Lewis – Tom’s father – went from South Africa to London to study art at The Slade where he met and married a fellow art student from Dublin, Theo Townshend.

The children went to South Africa and Tom was brought up by AJS Lewis and his wife Annie Solomon in Cape Town from the age of four until he was fifteen. Young Tom went to school at the Diocesan College, Rondebosch, where he had an excellent education as well as a good grounding in rugby, football and boxing.

In 1933 Tom’s father and his second wife, Vera Player, bought a house in Cheyne Row in Chelsea and sent for Young Tom, who was then aged 15. He went to St Paul’s School and subsequently studied medicine at Jesus College, Cambridge, and Guy’s Hospital Medical School, London, qualifying MB BChir in 1942. While a student at Guy’s, he obtained the Gold Medal in Obstetrics despite being told not to try as he stood no chance of success. He was so put out by this prediction that he worked day and night to ensure that the prize was his.

In 1943 he travelled in a convoy by ship to Cape Town and enlisted in the South African Air Force as a doctor but was then seconded to the RAMC. He served in Egypt, Italy and Greece. Meanwhile his father, Neville, served as War Artist to the South African Army, painting many famous people including Montgomery.

Tom returned to Guy’s Hospital after the war obtaining his FRCS diploma in 1946, an examination which he took in uniform, and the MRCOG diploma in 1948.

Before he had gone away to the war, he had met a very attractive young student nurse at Guy’s, Alexandra Moore, known as ‘Bunty’. He kept in touch with her while he was away and one of the first things he did on his return from the war was to go down to Stratton-on-the-Fosse near Bath to see her. He and Bunty were married a year later in Bath Abbey. Over the course of 19 years they had five sons, John, Anthony, Robert, Charlie and Richard.

Tom was a remarkable sportsman. He was a fine hurdler, winning both at St Paul’s School and at Jesus College. He rowed in the Jesus’s first boat at Henley and held the record for the fastest drinking of a pint whilst standing on his head. The record still stands. But it was in rugby that he excelled. He played for Guy’s (as captain), for Middlesex, for London University and for North Transvaal. In 1948 he was an England Trialist and was the travelling reserve throughout the season. He was selected to play against France but missed the match because of infective hepatitis. When aged 46, having not played for 15 years, Guy’s found themselves a man short for an important match. Tom always kept his boots in his car and he borrowed some clothes and played at full back for the whole match. He later became President of Guy’s Hospital Rugby Club.

He was also the middleweight boxing champion of United Hospitals and later in life took an active part in sailing, water skiing, snow skiing and golf. Not surprisingly his joints took a lot of punishment and many will remember him attending College functions in recent years with a walking stick, having had extensive orthopaedic surgery.

Tom was an authority on wine and he and Bunty were superb entertainers with their house full of paintings done by his father, Neville. Tom was also an authority on fungi and astronomy.

He was an excellent teacher, illustrating his ward rounds with superb drawings, a talent inherited from his father. He was also on the staff at Queen Charlotte’s Maternity Hospital and Chelsea Hospital for Women, as well as having a thriving private practice. Amongst his more notable patients were the wives of two of the Beatles and the wives of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

He was, to the day he died, an enthusiastic supporter of this College. He was on Council almost continuously from 1955 to 1978, becoming the Honorary Secretary and then Senior Vice President. He was awarded the CBE in 1979.

He and Bunty travelled the world extensively, on one occasion as the Sims Black Professor to Australasia. During this tour his plane became stranded on the Caicos Islands where he played in an impromptu cricket match against Australia on the tarmac. This was probably the last occasion that England beat Australia in cricket.

He wrote or edited a number of well-known textbooks, the best known of which is Ten Teachers which is still used extensively by students today.

He and his wife Bunty had a long and successful marriage. Both were very active in raising funds for Birthright and, unlike many of his peers, continued that support when it became WellBeing. Bunty to this day remains an enthusiastic supporter of the RCOG. She has organised the Queen Charlotte’s Birthday Ball on nine occasions.

He had a short illness, dying in May just before his 86th birthday. Tom is survived by his devoted wife, who nursed him through a very difficult illness, and by his five very successful sons one of whom, John, trained as a doctor at Guy’s. Tom was in all senses a true all rounder and he will be sadly missed by his family and this College.