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Davison, William [Bill] (1925–1993), geriatrician, was born at 1 Burntland Avenue, Southwick, Sunderland, on 12 September 1925, the son of Thomas Kirkup Davison, builder and contractor, and his wife, Mary, née Atkinson. He was educated at Bede grammar school, Sunderland, and from 1943 studied medicine at Edinburgh University, where he was prominent in many student councils and the athletics club. He qualified MB ChB in 1948, held house posts at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, and then joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. When his national service was completed, he returned to Sunderland where his father still lived, his mother having died of pneumonia in 1949.

Bill Davison initially considered a career in surgery and trained as a surgical registrar at Ryhope General Hospital and the Royal Infirmary, Sunderland. There he met Oscar Olbrich and Lyn Woodford-Williams, the pioneering geriatricians. Their enthusiasm for improving the medical care of older people converted him to follow their example. In 1953 he became Olbrich's senior house officer and later registrar. Following Olbrich's untimely death in 1957, he became Woodford-Williams's registrar and later senior registrar. He passed the MRCP (Edinburgh) examination in 1958. Meanwhile, at Christ Church, Bishopwearmouth, on 15 February 1954 he had married Lilas Grief (b. 1932), nurse, and daughter of William Grief, transport manager. They had three children.

Davison was appointed consultant geriatrician at Cambridge in 1960. There he created a geriatric service from scratch. He had responsibility for 600 beds in nine widely placed hospitals, all of which were former workhouses or isolation units, and where previous medical standards were very poor. His main base was an old dilapidated workhouse at Chesterton on the outskirts of Cambridge. The physician in nominal charge of these chronic sick beds had visited once and was so shocked by what he saw he never returned. The waiting list for admission exceeded 300, which Davison ignored unless general practitioners agitated. He had no secretaries or junior medical staff other than general practitioners. Investigative and treatment facilities were very limited. Davison introduced a new geriatric service with great determination. He examined all his inpatients, got them out of bed and into their daytime clothes. These actions caused outraged ‘do-gooders’ to write to the local papers complaining about this ‘sadistic’ treatment. Some nurses never overcame their resistance to the changes. He bullied the local authority to take patients who did not need hospital care. His greatest support came from lay people such as the administrators, which contrasted with marked resistance from the general physicians. He gradually acquired more junior medical staff and consultant colleagues, opened an outpatient department, and established a network of community and day hospitals. He played a key role in bringing geriatric medicine into the heart of the new Addenbrooke's Hospital, culminating in the setting up of a chair of clinical gerontology in 1989, the year before he retired.

Davison was a gifted teacher with a benevolent interest in his medical students, and extended teaching to postgraduates and nurses. He set up a general practitioner vocational training scheme, which, he noted wryly, was not immediately appreciated. He was an associate lecturer, examiner, and member of the board of the faculty of medicine at Cambridge University, examiner for the Royal College of Physicians and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, and a member of the council of the British Geriatrics Society. He wrote clinical papers, chapters in several textbooks, and co-wrote two books, including the very successful Lecture Notes on Geriatrics (1977), which ran to six editions. In 1969 he was elected FRCP (Edinburgh), and he was awarded a Cambridge MA degree and made a member of Clare College in 1977. From 1978 to 1983 he served on the General Nursing Council and he was seconded periodically to the NHS Health Advisory Service. He was an officer in the Territorial Army for thirty-three years, was awarded the TD in 1966, and became colonel commanding the 308 (County of London) General Hospital from 1981 to 1985. In this capacity, he was appointed the Queen's Honorary Physician in 1983–4. He was an officer of the order of St John of Jerusalem, president of the Cambridgeshire branch of Age Concern, and founder chairman from 1974 of the British Association for Service to the Elderly.

Davison was kind, charismatic, and good-humoured, with a flow of reminiscences; patients considered him ‘a lovely man’ (private information). He was skilful in committees, a shrewd tactician, and adept at arranging his arguments with a turn of phrase which was mellifluous, diplomatic, and witty. However, when occasion required, he could become brutally direct. Between 1984 and 1988 he proved an effective member of Cambridge Health Authority, and had the contentious task of chairing the committee which allocated the beds in the new Addenbrooke's Hospital. He died at his home, 53 Gilbert Road, Cambridge, on 15 July 1993, following a long illness due to cancer of the colon associated with a painful vasculitis. His wife and three children survived him.

Michael John Denham


nomination for consideration for advancement to the fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 10 May 1968, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh · ‘Geriatrics as a medical specialty’, interview by H. Houghton, 30 July 1991, BL NSA, F3363–5 · The Times (29 July 1993) · BMJ, 307 (4 Sept 1993), 618 · Proceedings of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 24 (1993), 153–4 · personal knowledge (2012) · private information (2012) · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.





BL NSA, F3363–5


obituary photographs · portrait, repro. in R. E. Irvine, ‘W. Davison’, BMJ,