William Menzies Clow

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 19 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3376
  1. M E Clow, D J Clow, J A K Davies, M R Howells

William Menzies (“Bill”) Clow’s early life was surprisingly colourful. Born during the second world war to Scottish medical missionary parents, who were running a hospital in Xian in China, this was a classic example of the Chinese proverb, “May you live in interesting times.” The family had two older children. In what must have been an incredibly stressful time for their parents, the boarding school in China that they attended was over-run by the Japanese. Propaganda did not lead their parents to expect that the children would be well treated, it eventually turned out that they were—the Japanese treated children well, and retired soldiers were placed in the school to run it. However, the senior Clows did not know if the children would ever be seen again, and they embarked on a second family, Dr Elizabeth Clow, Bill’s mother being cared for by the staff she herself had trained. First a son was born, then a further son, plus Bill as his undiagnosed second twin. When the twins were 18 months old, the Japanese invasion reached Xian. Bill’s mother fled with the three tiny children across the Yellow River to India and thence to the UK. Bill’s father, Dr Menzies Clow, remained behind in China, determined not to abandon the hospital, having to join the British military to do so. At the end of the war, Bill and his brothers met their repatriated older siblings for the first time. The older children then remained in boarding school in England while Bill’s mother took the younger children back to Xian, where they attended a Canadian school. Bill’s mother, by all accounts, was a redoubtable woman. Apart from her medical achievements, she counted mountaineering and concert-standard piano playing among her achievements, though travelling around war-torn Asia with three toddlers singlehanded may outstrip everything else! Three years later, the Communist revolution forced mother and children to leave China again, travelling back to the UK via Hong Kong. It was not until 1952 that Bill’s father returned from China. The senior Clows, although surgically inclined, set up in general practice in Lincolnshire. Only the twins followed their parents’ footsteps into medicine.

Bill trained at Edinburgh University, followed by house jobs in Bangour and Edinburgh. He returned to Bangour as registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology, during which time he married Elspeth, who was working there as midwifery sister. A further registrar appointment took them to Manchester for eight years, Bill working first as clinical tutor, doing urogynaecological research, then as senior registrar on rotation, working for Patrick Steptoe the year before Louise Brown, the first IVF baby, was born

In 1978 Bill’s search for a consultant post took him to Wales, and he joined Tony Davies, an acquaintance from the Simpson Club, in a new unit at Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, where they shared an enthusiasm for developing an excellent service including a new colposcopy service, a project dear to Bill’s heart. The early days of the partnership with Tony saw the Raise a Laser Fund, among other initiatives. Bill was a consummate early adopter of new developments, which meant that the unit often benefited from new technology and practices ahead of bigger units.

Bill remained as consultant at Withybush and assumed the role of college tutor, clinical lead, and colposcopy lead at various times until 2006, when he retired from the NHS, and was delighted to relate that he was replaced by three people. After initially enjoying an extended holiday at the outset of his retirement, he found that he missed obstetrics and gynaecology, and, free of the ever encroaching pressures of administration and cost saving pressures within the NHS, he embarked on a second career in New Zealand, where he worked from 2006 to 2014, enjoying the freedom of clinical work only and rediscovering his interest in research.

Bill had a strong interest in training junior medical staff, with whom he maintained links. Many doctors working in the department from overseas appreciated his caring help with their careers, including those from Ghana, Sri Lanka, Botswana, Germany, India, and Nigeria as well as others who became GPs and O&G consultants locally as well as internationally.

The Presbyterian Church played a large part in Bill’s life. He was ordained as an elder of the Church of Scotland in 1970 and was elder at Ebenezer Church, Haverfordwest, for many years, working closely with the pastors of that and other churches, where the church had an impact on the daily life of the hospital.

Bill strongly supported medical work in less developed countries, perhaps with echoes of his parents’ work in China, and was instrumental in setting up charitable status for the Friends of Living Hope Hospital in Nigeria. While in Whakatane, he was involved with fundraising to convert a community facility to provide antenatal care for the local disadvantaged Maori community.

Singing with the Haverfordwest male voice choir was an abiding passion of his over the years. During a choir tour, Bill was with the choir in Canada when their return to the UK was delayed by an international flight ban at the time of 9/11. Another overseas choir trip to New Zealand gave him the impetus to seek locum work there, where he was much in demand. He also joined local and national choirs in New Zealand while working there.

Bill was always strongly appreciated by his patients. No patient ever felt that they had less than Bill’s whole undivided attention, and he had all the time in the world to talk to them, sometimes to the exasperation of his clinic staff. The appreciation of the patients culminated in the awarding of medals for services to patients during the two year Unsung Heroes Campaign run by the national UK network of local newspapers. Bill was the only hospital doctor in Wales to receive a silver medal in 1991 and a bronze medal in 1992.

Bill leaves Elspeth; their three sons Douglas, Andrew, and Gordon; six grandchildren; his twin, David; two older brothers; one sister; and numerous nephews and nieces, three of whom are doctors.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3376


  • Former consultant obstetrican and gynaecologist Withybush Hospital, Haverfordwest; and various hospitals, most recently Whakatane Hospital, New Zealand (b 1941; q 1965; DObst, FRCOG), died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on 21 November 2014.

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