Mary Catterall

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 18 January 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i290
  1. Caroline Mussared

Mary Catterall (née Williamson) was a highly respected doctor and an accomplished sculptor, who became known as an “encourager.” After leaving school she became a despatch rider for the Home Guard, tractor driver, poet, playwright, and sculptor. During the war, while taking refuge in air raid shelters, she taught herself to model in clay. She had a natural talent, and sculpting became a passion throughout her life. She had a few lessons from the renowned sculptor Humphrey Paget. These ended abruptly, however, when Paget saw a bust that Mary had done of him. He considered it to be so good that “there is nothing more that I can teach you.” All her sculptures were done from memory, using no photographs, sittings, or measurements.

In 1941 she trained as a physiotherapist but realised that she would prefer to be “hands on” as a doctor. She completed her physiotherapy course while studying for the 1st MB by correspondence. In 1947 she was admitted to the London Hospital to study medicine. She was one of seven women in the class of 77 students and soon realised that she was at a distinct disadvantage being female in a male dominated profession—a situation she was to encounter repeatedly throughout her career.

After graduating in 1952 Mary’s first appointment was as house physician in the radiotherapy department at the London Hospital, where she had her first experience of trying to raise funds for improved radiation apparatus. Fundraising was to become a huge, often frustrating and challenging, part of her work in later years.

Her next appointment was in respiratory physiology at the London Hospital. New tests of respiration were being developed through which breathing was dissected into its many components, revealing much more about a patient’s breathlessness than a chest x ray.

In 1953, “as an experiment,” …

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