Maurice Garretts

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 13 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f574
  1. James Garretts,
  2. Robert Chalmers,
  3. Michael Beck

Maurice Garretts was enticed into a career in dermatology by William Goldsmith, an eminent senior consultant dermatologist at University College Hospital (UCH), who had been editor of the British Journal of Dermatology from 1939 to 1948. Goldsmith was a stickler for linguistic accuracy and took care to inculcate into his students the importance of using precise language to explain medical problems to patients. Once, when he used as an example a sentence about sandwiches, he overheard Maurice asking a fellow student what might have been in the sandwich. Goldsmith was not amused, and Maurice thought his hopes of a career in dermatology were at an end. Maurice was evidently forgiven as he was awarded the Radcliffe Crocker scholarship, named after a 19th century UCH dermatologist, Henry Radcliffe Crocker, and he was able to stay on to pursue his chosen career. On one memorable occasion during his training, he found himself accompanying his boss on a consultation to Chartwell Manor in Kent to see the then prime minister, Winston Churchill, at his country home. While working at UCH, he met his future wife, Sheila, a medical secretary, and married her in 1952.

During his national service as a dermatologist with the British Army of the Rhine in Germany, he was asked to see Rudolf Hess in Spandau prison. Hess was for a time deputy leader of the Nazi party and essentially Hitler’s right hand man. On another occasion, he was called to see another Allied prisoner, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, who had commanded the Luftwaffe in numerous campaigns in the second world war, including the Battle of Britain and Operation Barbarossa. Kesselring asked him: ”You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” To which he replied that he was. “Ah yes, the Jews have always made the best doctors,” was the field marshal’s response. Maurice became a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps and never flinched from doing his best to care for all patients, irrespective of religious beliefs and political affiliations. His open mindedness is exemplified by his decision to widen his experience of dermatology by spending several months in Alfred Marchionini’s department at the University of Munich. He continued to be a member of the Deutsche Dermatologische Gesellschaft until his retirement.

On his return from Munich in 1961 he was appointed consultant dermatologist to the Manchester and Salford Hospital for Skin Diseases. In Manchester he had a full clinical schedule, with commitments not only at the skin hospital but also at Manchester Royal Infirmary, the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Withington Hospital, and Wythenshawe Hospital. Over the next 30 years he committed himself selflessly to his patients and to passing on his extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for dermatology to medical students, trainees, and younger consultant colleagues. He was also consulted on occasion by veterinarians at Chester Zoo to give his opinion on skin problems arising in a range of animals, including an elephant and a polar bear. He was held in great affection by his colleagues and was much respected for his qualities of humility, tenderness, compassion, and professional integrity.

After his retirement in 1991, Maurice remained in Manchester for a few years before moving with his wife, Sheila, to north London, to be closer to his daughter and her family. He remained fit and active until his final illness and for many years selflessly supported Sheila, whose health had not been as sound as his. Maurice leaves Sheila; their children, Angela and James; and their grandchildren, Andrew and Jonathan.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f574


  • Retired consultant dermatologist Manchester (b 1926; q University College Hospital, London, 1950), d 7 October 2012.

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