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Edwin Ernest Frederick Keal

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 29 May 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3566
  1. Margaret Turner-Warwick,
  2. Richard Keal

Edwin Ernest Frederick Keal, always affectionately known to his professional colleagues as “Eddie,” was born and brought up in Hull. He left grammar school at 15 to become a shipping clerk, and at the age of 17, in May 1939, he enrolled in the Hull division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. The RNVR had its own training ship, an anti-aircraft cruiser called HMS Curaçao. He was called up in September 1939, when just 18 years old, and took part in the 1940 Norway campaign and the evacuation from Dunkirk. He was quickly selected for officer training, but, because he was only 19 years old, he became a midshipman on the battleship HMS Malaya. In August 1941 he was promoted to sub-lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Gurkha. Posted to the Mediterranean, the ship took part in the Malta convoys. He was seriously wounded on 17 January 1942, when his ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat. This resulted in an above knee amputation of his left leg at just 20 years of age. After rehabilitation in South Africa he was declared fit for service ashore and sent to a naval air arm training centre in Lancashire, where he met Connie, who was in the Women’s Royal Naval Service at the time. They married in 1945.

After the war Eddie started his medical training at the London Hospital. During the winter of 1947, Connie contracted tuberculosis and was treated at the Brompton Hospital and Frimley Sanatorium. Eddie obtained membership of the Royal College of Physicians in 1957 and was elected FRCP in 1973. He initially worked in London, where he developed his interest in chest diseases as a result of Connie’s illness, but moved to Leeds in 1959. He returned to London and was appointed senior registrar at the Brompton Hospital in 1961. In 1963 he obtained his first consultant post as a physician at St Charles Hospital, North Kensington, and as chest physician to the Kensington and Chelsea Chest Clinic. Three years later, in 1966 he joined the Brompton as a part time specialist chest physician, and in 1977 was also appointed to the consultant staff of St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington.

Most physicians aspiring to an appointment at a London teaching hospital were expected to have undertaken research to obtain a doctorate of medicine. To this end he joined Professor Lynne Reid’s department of academic pathology at the Institute of Diseases of the Chest, the postgraduate medical school attached to the Brompton. His research was on the rheology of bronchial secretions in patients with chronic bronchitis. This work was accepted for an MD in 1971.

Throughout his entire professional and private life he never allowed any concessions to his artificial leg. He never took lifts, preferring to use the stairs as a matter of principle. He refused to have a reserved car park space, even when it forced him to walk much further. This absolute refusal to accept that he was in any way disadvantaged reflects his courage, determination, and complete acceptance of his injury. As he often said to his family, he regarded it as his good fortune that he was alive when so many of his compatriots had been killed in the war. Notwithstanding, for many years he regularly visited servicemen with similar injuries in various rehabilitation hospitals, encouraging them to take the same positive attitude to life.

He was hugely respected by his junior and senior colleagues for his medical judgment, skill, and compassion, and much loved by his patients for his kindness, wisdom, and understanding.

In 1979 he was persuaded to take on the role of dean of the Cardiothoracic Institute (the renamed Institute of Diseases of the Chest). This was a considerable challenge because it was at a time when specialist tertiary referral hospitals and their academic institutes were coming under increasing pressure from the government, the Department of Health, and London University. Both the NHS and the university wanted these specialist institutions to be amalgamated with teaching hospitals and their associated undergraduate medical schools. At the same time the Brompton and its institute had merged with the National Heart Hospital and the Cardiac Institute on to the Brompton site. The relatively smooth transition of this reorganisation was in no small part due to Eddie’s skill as an understanding negotiator, and to his tolerance and patience.

Also during his watch as dean, the Institute of Heart and Lung Research at Midhurst was facing grave financial problems. The institute’s governing body had realised that a relatively small institute on an isolated site in Surrey was neither academically nor financially viable and that there was no alternative but closure. Once again Eddie showed his skill during the complex and delicate negotiations and his wise leadership through times of extreme tension and difficulty.

Shortly after his tenure finished, in 1985, he reached the NHS retirement age of 65. He continued in private practice for a further five years, often caring for patients he had supported through longstanding illnesses.

Always impeccably dressed and with a shock of pure white hair from quite an early age, Eddie was above all a wonderful patients’ doctor. Medicine and caring were his life. He set a fine example to his junior staff, especially through professional dedication and the holistic care of patients. Although personal clinical care of patients was always his first priority, he contributed substantially to postgraduate teaching. He also served on the Brompton Hospital board of governors and the committee of management of the institute for many years, and his wise guidance steered both institutions through the choppy waters of an ever changing clinical and postgraduate teaching and research scenario.

After retirement Eddie and Connie moved to their cottage in Orford, Suffolk, where they took an active part in village life. Declining health, partly because of his war injuries, forced a move in 2006 to Oakham, Rutland, to be near their son. Connie died in 2008; they had been married for 62 years. Eddie died in Glenfield Hospital, Leicester. He is survived by his son Richard, a consultant radiologist, and three grandsons.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3566


  • Honorary consulting physician Royal Brompton Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital, London (b 1921; q London 1952; MD, FRCP), died from bronchopneumonia on 24 March 2011.

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