Ruth Owen

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 01 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5154
  1. Margaret Owen

Ruth Tate was born in Missoula, Montana, and intended to become a writer, graduating in English literature from Boston University in 1951. The death of her younger sister in a car crash changed her ambitions: “If I couldn’t save my sister, I would save others.” Although it was an unusual route for an arts graduate, Ruth secured a place at University of Pennsylvania Medical School in Philadelphia and decided on a career in anaesthetics. A chance meeting on a trip to London in 1953 led to a transatlantic romance with Griff (S G Owen), a cardiology registrar, and eventually to their marriage and Ruth’s move to the UK. The arrival of their children delayed Ruth’s entry to specialist training, and it wasn’t until 1970 that she became a senior house officer at Charing Cross Hospital. Being a 40 year old trainee with four young children did not obviously hamper her career progress, which was rapid, although life was exhausting at times. Ruth became a consultant anaesthetist at King Edward Memorial Hospital in 1975 (later Ealing Hospital) and worked between there and Hammersmith Hospital as a senior lecturer in the Royal Postgraduate Medical School until her retirement in 1994.

Ruth was instrumental in establishing the first intensive care unit in the new hospital in Ealing, which she directed until 1988. She felt a great sense of responsibility and affection for Ealing Hospital, which she helped to shape and run from its beginning. The sight of Ruth in her distinctive roofless Mini Moke, which she drove to work in all weathers, became a familiar sight in West London. She was a committed teacher and mentor for junior staff, especially those who were trying to combine career and family. During the 1980s she spent part of her annual leave at St Luke’s Hospital in Malta, as an anaesthetist for paediatric cardiac lists. She was a member of the BMA, the Association of Anaesthetists, the Medical Women’s Federation, and the Royal Society of Medicine, where she was honorary secretary of the anaesthesia section during the 90s. She never lost her enthusiasm for her profession or her capacity for hard work.

Ruth reluctantly retired in 1994 but quickly turned her enthusiasm to other projects. She and Griff travelled widely and enjoyed music and theatre in London. Ruth was delighted to become a grandmother and would think nothing of going to Scotland or California to babysit when needed. She experienced severe hearing loss in her later years, and in spite of her diligently attending lip reading classes, conversation became ever more difficult. Ruth became very frail in her 80s after a series of strokes and the gradual advancement of vascular dementia. She was predeceased by Griff and leaves four children and five grandchildren.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5154


  • Former consultant anaesthetist and intensivist (b 1929; q University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine 1955; FFRCS), died from a gastrointestinal haemorrhage on 1 August 2015.

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