Intended for healthcare professionals


Margaret Mary “Rita” Black

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 14 May 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2110

Opinion: Death is no longer just in the hands of god or fate, but often a decision

Opinion: Five reasons to write an obituary

  1. Mary E Black
  1. London
  1. maryethnablack{at}

Consultant anaesthetist who originally wanted to be a nun and then a surgeon

At heart Margaret “Rita” Black (née Fitzgerald) was a countrywoman. Born in 1925 in Midleton, County Cork, she collected eggs, went to school in a pony and trap during the war when petrol was short, and cooked during harvest for the farm workers. She was one of five children, and her two brothers inherited the family farms, while she and her two sisters got an education. Rita planned to be a missionary doctor, like her sister Kate,[1] and was a novice nun while she studied medicine. She did not take her final vows; she realised she could not promise to “obey.” She was exceptionally bright, gaining a first and multiple gold medals in both medicine and surgery in her final exams in 1948. Some of her happiest times were working as a trainee surgeon and teaching anatomy to undergraduate medical students in the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. Her doctorate on the adrenal glands of the mouse was another high point. Finally settling on anaesthetics, as women were discouraged from being surgeons after marriage, she established the anaesthetic department at Ireland’s National Children’s Hospital.

Her first impressions of my father, John Alexander Black (a fellow doctor), were of his startling blue eyes and disturbingly red nose. They were both working in England, and he asked if he might accompany her to mass—this being the only way he thought he could get this high flier to go out on a date with him. She turned him down, worried that he might, like many Irish men, be a drinker. He was in fact a lifelong, abstinent, Pioneer, who would turn down even a sherry trifle. In his determination to court her, he resorted to subterfuge and invited her to assist him …

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