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BMJ. 2007 June 30; 334(7608): 1378.
PMCID: PMC1906605

George Douglas Pinker

Surgeon gynaecologist to the Queen

Sir George Pinker succeeded Sir John Peel as surgeon gynaecologist to the Queen in 1973. He later shared with Peel the unique distinction of also becoming president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. These totally dissimilar appointments reflected Pinker's unique qualities both as a widely respected clinical obstetrician and gynaecologist and his commitment to the wider aspects of service to medicine.

Born in Calcutta and educated in Reading, he entered St Mary's Hospital Medical School in 1942. He was active as a student in reviving the musical society which had atrophied during the second world war, and with his fine baritone voice sang one of the leading roles in its first post war production, the Mikado. Such was the quality of this production that he and two other students were offered professional contracts with the D'Oyly Carte Company. Fortunately for medicine he declined the offer, but his love, knowledge, and understanding of music, particularly opera (and especially Wagner), continued throughout his life. This was reflected in his becoming assistant concert director of Reading Symphony Orchestra and then vice president of the London Choral Society in 1988.

After qualifying he held resident appointments in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at St Mary's under three renowned specialists: Alec Bourne (an elegant, well-mannered man of academic brilliance with left wing political views and a very strong social conscience), Douglas Macleod (a highly literate, cultured, and artistic master surgeon), and Leslie Williams (a jovial, blustering obstetrician who was a brilliant didactic teacher). Pinker always paid tribute to this distinguished trio for starting him on his chosen career. After national service as captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Singapore he continued his training in leading hospitals in Oxford and London before obtaining, at the tender age of 33, a consultant appointment in the hospital he loved, St Mary's, Paddington, which included the Samaritan Hospital for Women. Afterwards he accepted an appointment at the Bolingbroke Hospital (1960-70) and later in his career at the Soho Hospital for Women and King Edward VII Hospital for Officers (1974-89).

One of Pinker's most significant spheres of influence was with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. It was as treasurer between 1970 and 1977 that he played a key role in the creation of its charity research arm, initially known as Birthright but later as WellBeing of Women. He was instrumental in persuading Diana, Princess of Wales, to become patron of Birthright, an appointment which electrified its fund raising activities. The post of treasurer was followed by vice president (1980-3), and thereafter Sir George served as president from 1987 to1990. In 1987 Pinker was one of the three English royal college presidents who drew public and government attention to the underfunding of the NHS with a letter to the Times which played a significant role in prompting the Thatcher government to conduct an NHS review, introduce the internal market, and put in place yet another of what has become an endless series of changes in NHS management structure.

His appointment as surgeon gynaecologist to the Queen and the royal household was one he held with great pride and discretion, and he supervised nine royal births. All of these occurred at the Lindo Wing, St Mary's, rather than at a royal residence, and it was this historic break with tradition that illustrated his guiding principal that the welfare and safety of all his patients, royal, private, or NHS, were his non-negotiable priorities. He was appointed a CVO in 1983 and a KCVO in 1990. Pinker had a large private practice. One of his patients organised a 70th birthday celebration for him in 1994 at Grosvenor House in London. No less than two queens, two princesses, and one duchess attended this function.

He held visiting appointments and was awarded travelling lectureships in Africa and Australia, as well as examining widely both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Honorary fellowships were given to him by the equivalent postgraduate colleges of South Africa, Australia, and the United States. He found time to coauthor two undergraduate textbooks, serve as chief medical officer to BUPA, and serve on the council of the Winston Churchill Trust. He remained immensely loyal to St Mary's and took his responsibilities as a teaching hospital consultant very seriously. He was a fine teacher, and many generations of students, house officers, and registrars held him in great affection and gratitude. His support and friendship to his colleagues never faltered throughout his career. Never flamboyant or superior, he gave time to everybody who approached him, and it was no small wonder that he was not renowned for punctuality or getting home in time for supper!

One would have thought that Pinker would have no time for recreation left, but he loved sailing, skiing, and fell walking. He was a keen and knowledgeable gardener, as learnt from his father, a horticulturist who worked for Sutton's Seeds for 40 years and headed the bulb and flower department for 25 years.

Sir George's final appointment was as president of the Royal Society of Medicine in1992. By this time symptoms of his long disabling illness were becoming apparent, but he still continued to host meetings and chair committees with his customary charm, diplomacy, and talent for finding a compromise solution when there were marked differences of opinion. His last 10 years at his Cotswold cottage in Willersey were marred by his and his wife Dorothy's ill health. Despite his own disability, he cared for Dorothy with selfless devotion until her death in 2003. Alone, wheelchair bound, and with failing eyesight, he still loved visitors, conversation, gossip over a pub lunch, and, above all, music. His stoicism in adversity was as remarkable as were the many triumphs of his medical career. He is survived by three sons and a daughter.

Sir George Pinker, surgeon gynaecologist to the Queen, president Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (b 1924; q St Mary's, London, 1947; KCVO, FRCS, FRCSEd, FRCOG), died on 29 April 2007 from Parkinson's disease shortly after a laparotomy for an acute abdomen.


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