David PateyDavid Howard Patey (1899-1977), surgeon, was born on 25 October 1899 at 88 Tillery Street, Abertillery, Monmouthshire, the eldest of the three children of Frank Walter Patey (c. 1871-1960), hotel furbisher, and his wife, Ann, nee Davies (d. 1941). His father was English from Bedminster, Bristol, and his mother Welsh. He attended Llandovery School, where an iron regimen of the classics and rugby football prevailed, and having decided on a career in medicine he entered the Middlesex Hospital medical school in London with an entrance scholarship in classics in 1916.
Patey's studies (and rugby) were interrupted in 1918 by a short period of combatant service in France and Belgium with the South Wales Borderers (41984) and the Training Battalion (23805). After returning to the Middlesex his brilliant student career culminated in 1923 in his being awarded the scholarship for the best student of the year at the Middlesex and the gold medal for the best medical student in the whole of the University of London. Patey became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1924. His graduate training continued at the Middlesex, including two years in the pathology department that awakened what was to be a long-lasting interest in the morbid anatomical approach to disease. He became MS (London) in 1927. On February 05 of the same year he married Gladys Joyce (1898-1981), daughter of Gilbert Summers, of Hounslow; they had two sons and a daughter.
Between 1922 and 1932 Patey held surgical posts In London at the Middlesex Hospital, the Hampstead General Hospital, St. Mark's Hospital, St. Peter's Hospital, and the Acton Hospital. He was appointed to the consultant staff of the Middlesex in 1930, the same year in which he was awarded the Jacksonian prize of the Royal College of Surgeons for an essay on tumours of the parotid salivary gland. In the following year he became Hunterian professor at the college. A sound clinician and operative surgeon, undoubtedly his major contributions lay in fields of research and teaching. Particularly in his early years, his research ranged over a wide field, a conspicuous feature of his publications being that they have stood the test of time.
Without question Patey's most important work concerned the management of cancer of the breast and parotid tumours. The operation he described for removing the affected breast was as effective in removing cancerous tissue as it's predecessors, but caused much less disfigurement. It was a seminal forerunner of the modern trend towards limited excision, relying on other means to to deal with distant spread. By contrast his approach to the treatment of the apparently benign but potentially malignant tumours of the parotid was to insist on excision with wide margins, because they were thus eminently curable but likely to recur if the margin of clearance was compromised. The contrast between these two approaches to superficially similar situations demonstrates Patey's intellectual strength in stripping a problem down to it's fundamentals. The quality of his research work was marked in 1964 by his election to an honorary fellowship of the American Surgical Association, a signal honour bestowed on British surgeons. Patey was also president of the section of surgery at the Royal Society of Medicine (1951-52) and Colles lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (1957), and he wrote more than a hundred learned publications.
Patey's bedside teaching was effective, but the full flowering of his educative role started in 1952 when he was appointed director of the department for surgical studies at the Middlesex Hospital medical school. He developed intellectually stimulating teaching methods. Apart from traditional bedside and outpatient teaching, he encouraged undergraduates to present cases at clinical demonstrations, organize co-operative seminars depending on literature searches, and undertake small research projects, some of which were published. These innovative techniques have been widely copied.
In 1952 the Society of University Surgeons in North America invited Patey to attend their annual meeting. Patey was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the young surgeons presenting their scientific work and returned to England determined to foster a similar development. He interested Professor Sir James Paterson-Ross, later president of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, in the concept, and they contacted the heads of all of the university departments of surgery in the United Kingdom and Eire. The suggestion that a surgical research society should be founded met with enthusiasm. When a subcommittee was set up to formulate the rules, Patey insisted on two of great importance, whose influence later spread widely beyond the society: namely, that papers should be spoken and not read, and that their delivery should take no longer than ten minutes. The first meeting of the Surgical Research Society was held at the Middlesex Hospital in 1954, with Sir James as the first president and Patey as his honorary secretary. Initially limited to fifty the membership later increased tenfold. Patey was the society's president from 1958 to 1960.
From it's inception the Surgical Research Society had a profound influence on the development of surgical research in the British Isles because it coincided with the burgeoning of many new academic departments of surgery and provided a critical forum for young surgeons striving to apply new scientific methods to surgical problems. This influence spread to Australia and South Africa, where similar societies were founded. Much of the reason for his success lay in Patey's characteristics: clarity of mind, scrupulous logic, transparent honesty, true humility, and the grace and charm with which he conducted himself, even when he was preventing a speaker from overstepping the ten minute rule.
Of average height and powerful build and with a massive head, conservative in dress (the last at the Middlesex to wear spats), Patey's characteristic and frequently mimicked foibles of speech endeared him to staff and students. After he retired Patey continued to study philosophy and mathematics, and taught himself Russian to A-level standard. He was a man of profound, though not unquestioning, religious faith and for many years acted as churchwarden at St. Mary's, Bryanston Square, London. Proud of his Welsh roots, he was never happier, than when holidaying in Wales, walking and fishing, or when playing the piano for family gatherings, concentrating on songs with a Welsh flavour.
David Howard Patey died from cancer of the prostate on 27 March 1977 at his home, 2 Cannongate Close, Hythe, Kent. He was buried at Barham crematorium, near Canterbury, on 02 April 1977.