Gone but not forgotten

This could easily be the title of one of the RCP’s more unusual member benefits, our obituary production service. This service has produced an obituary notice for every deceased fellow since our foundation in 1518.

The Harveian librarian, William Munk (1816–1898) produced the first set of obituaries and published them in 1861. Munk took up the post in 1857 and served until his death in 1898. He was a keen advocate of RCP history and tradition, as well as a medical historian. Munk was especially interested in the people who formed this eminent membership organisation. He researched and produced entries for all fellows, members and licentiates up to 1825 and published them in three volumes.

Later Harveian librarians have continued what Munk started, and named the series Munk’s roll in honour of its original compiler. Though, lacking Munk’s stamina, they restricted the series to fellows alone, due to the rising numbers of RCP members throughout the 20th century.

The entire series is available online and the majority of modern entries, since 1966, have been written by colleagues, peers or family members. These brief biographies are often compelling, sometimes poignant but always reveal the person as well as the doctor.

The biography for Eric Anthony Barker (1920–1993) reveals a fascinating life and a legacy to be proud of. Known as Anthony, he was born in Birmingham, the son of a solicitor. Studying medicine at Birmingham University, he found more than just a degree.

‘Holding hands in the dissection room …’ with Maggie Newton led to a marriage and a lifelong partnership of service in which they were never separated, not even in death.

Maggie was already determined to travel to Africa as a medical missionary. Anthony simply asked the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, ‘Would you like two doctors for the price of one?'

The Barkers travelled to South Africa in 1945. Together they turned a converted trading shed with six beds into a flourishing training hospital with 600 beds, serving as the district general hospital for a population of 100,000 people. After 27 years the South African government took over the hospital the Barkers had built up. Remaining true to their principles, they resigned, but ‘left behind a monument to all that is best in missionary endeavours.’

Anthony developed a deep and abiding love for the Zulu people and their land, becoming fluent in their language and trusted and respected by both the people and their leaders – even by the traditional healers … The South African system of apartheid was destroyed in the hospital by his total resistance to any divisions based on racial grounds, whether it be at table, at work, or in the field of sport … The Zulus aptly called him ‘Mhlek’emhlathini’ – ‘He who laughs in the forest’ – the forest being his beard.

Anthony and Maggie returned to England in 1975, where he was awarded the CBE and received the freedom of the City of Birmingham. He became a consultant in accident and emergency at St George’s Hospital, London. ‘Maggie, as a house officer in his department was “... unsure whether to call him ‘darling’ or ‘Sir.’”’

When they demolished the old St George’s Hospital, he reused some of the waste ground beside the new casualty department as a vegetable garden, which he looked after in spare moments. This was characteristic of his concern for conservation and the world’s resources, which included using a bicycle as his means of transport.

As in their lives, cycling was a team event: Anthony was the frontman, Maggie the powerhouse behind, as they rode their beloved white tandem. An enormous circle of friends … welcomed their visits and … were cajoled to sponsor tens of thousands of miles, ridden tandem, for their favourite charities. They actively supported more than 30.

‘Anthony Barker was a man with presence, short in stature, quick in wit and a lively raconteur. … Nothing was done by half measures.’ He and Maggie died together, in a traffic accident, while touring the Lake District on their tandem for their golden wedding anniversary.

This is just one of many compelling stories in our obituary series, which celebrates the careers and lives of clinicians, scientists, statesmen and pioneers over the last 500 years. Find your own inspiration from the past in the Lives of the fellows.

Pamela Forde, archive manager

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