History of LSA

Past Presidents


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Past Presidents - Thomas Cecil Gray

cecilgrayGray, Thomas Cecil (1913-2008)

 JP1966; CBE 1976; OSyJ 1979;  KCSG 1982, Freeman, City of London 1984; MB ChB [Hons] 1937; DA 1941; MD 1947; FRCA 1948; Hon FFARCSI 1962; Hon FRCS 1968; Hon FRCP 1972; Hon FRSocMed 1979; Hon FANZCA 1992.

 Born: 11 March 1913 Liverpool, UK. Died 5 January 2008

Thomas Cecil Gray was the first Professor of Anaesthesia at Liverpool University. He was born in Liverpool on the 11th March 1913, the son of Thomas Gray a local publican and Ethel Unwin. A devout Roman Catholic, Cecil was educated initially at the Convent of the Sacre Coeur in Bath and subsequently at Ampleforth, the Benedictine College in North Yorkshire. It had been his intention to enter the Monastery but, the misdemeanour of being caught smoking in the bushes within two months of becoming a novice monk made it clear to all except Cecil that this was not to be his vocation. Consequently to the dismay of his mother, he returned to Liverpool to study medicine entering the Medical School in 1931. On graduating with distinction in Anatomy in 1937 he became a trainee in General Practice in the city before purchasing a practice in Wallasey with the help of his father. He rapidly became fascinated by anaesthesia which at that time was dominantly practiced on a part-time basis by General Practitioners. Under the tutelage of Robert Minnitt he rapidly collected the 1000 cases required for the Diploma in Anaesthesia which he obtained in 1941. Soon after this he became a full time anaesthetist covering several hospitals in the city of Liverpool.

His academic career began in 1942 with his appointment as Demonstrator in Anaesthesia in the University of Liverpool. Largely as the result of

Dr Minnitt’s national role in creating awareness of the necessity to ensure  proper teaching and training in anaesthesia Cecil was appointed Reader and Head of Department when the new academic department was established in 1947. In 1959 he was awarded a Personal Chair in Anaesthesia which he held until his retirement from active practice in 1976.

Cecil was appointed as the first Postgraduate Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Liverpool University from 1966-70 and then Dean of the Faculty of Medicine from 1970-76.

Very early in his full time career in  anaesthesia Cecil and John Halton set out to investigate the feasibility of inducing neuromuscular blockade using a derivative of Wourali, the crude South American arrow poison which was eventually prepared as d-tubocurarine chloride by Burroughs Wellcome of Crewe. Within 12 months they had collected 1200 assorted surgical cases in which the drug has been used safely. Their first public dissertation ‘A Milestone in Anaesthesia – d-tubocurarine’ was delivered to the Section of Anaesthesia, Royal Society of Medicine on the 1st March 1946. Much often sceptical discussion about the safety of this potential poison took place at many subsequent meetings of the Section. In April 1948, Cecil Gray attempted to allay this scepticism when he presented a detailed report on the use of curare in 8500 patients anaesthetised by a group of enthusiastic colleagues across the Liverpool Region who had willingly adopted the technique of hypnosis, muscle relaxation and controlled ventilation without serious morbidity or mortality thereby confirming Cecil’s firm belief that one of the most potentially dangerous of drugs was one of the least toxic when used carefully. With modification this technique has survived nationally and internationally. Advances in pharmacology and physiology have enhanced the safety and universal acceptability of this technique of anaesthetic management to the present day. Cecil Gray undoubtedly merits recognition as one of the great British Pioneers of modern anaesthesia.

He must also be remembered for his major contribution to education and standards of training in anaesthesia. Fully aware of the inevitable change in medical and, in particular, anaesthetic practice which would follow the  establishment of the National Health Service in 1948 he saw an obvious need for a high standard of formal training and post-graduate education in anaesthesia and the establishment of an examination structure similar to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons. On becoming Reader and Head of the new Department of Anaesthesia in the University of Liverpool in 1947 he persuaded the Dean of the Liverpool Medical School and the Board of Clinical Studies to support the establishment of a Post-graduate Course. The first  enrolments took place in October 1948. Within a year the Hospital Authorities within the area officially recognised the proposals for a full time course and empowered the Academic Department to recruit junior staff for the hospitals throughout the region. Most of the surgeons tacitly agreed to the presence of trainees in the operating theatres. It was agreed that all trainees would attend lectures until 11.00 am each morning, including Saturday. All participants were required to have had anaesthetic experience prior to enrolment. This course, the first in the United Kingdom, proved extremely popular and by 1952 had expanded its horizons with the recruitment of students from the Indian sub-continent, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Africa and Australia.

Cecil’s profound interest in medical education and his organisational skills led to his election as a Foundation Member of the Board of the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1948. He served as Vice-Dean from 1952-54 and as Dean from 1964-67. He also played an active role in the foundation of both the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiology and the European Congress of Anaesthesiology. He was invited as either a visiting professor or lecturer to many University departments and Anaesthetic Societies overseas.  

 In 1948 Cecil and Edward Faulkner Hill were appointed as Joint Editors of the British Journal of Anaesthesia overseeing a gradual improvement in coverage, quality and circulation. He retired from this role in 1964.

Cecil was invited to deliver numerous eponymous lectures. Many honours, national and international, were bestowed upon him. These included the Clover Medal, the James Young Simpson Gold Medal, the Henry Hill Hickman Medal of the RSM, the George James Guthrie Medal, the Gold Medal of the Royal College of Surgeons, the John Snow Silver Medal and the Magill Gold Medal of the Association of Anaesthetists. In 1982 he was awarded the Papal Gold Medal by Pope John Paul II in recognition of the role which he had played in the organisation of the Pope’s visit to Liverpool.

In 1961 he became the first anaesthetist to be awarded the Sims Commonwealth Travelling Professorship of the Royal Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons and Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. This provided the opportunity for Cecil and his wife to travel to Australia where they spent three months engaged in educational activities and valuable interchange of ideas.

He wrote numerous papers and co-edited several editions of the General Anaesthesia, which became the ‘Liverpool Bible’ of anaesthesia. His last publication in 2003 was the biography of Dr Richard Formby, the founder of the Liverpool Medical School at the Royal Institution which subsequently moved to the Infirmary in 1844.

Cecil was President of the Section of Anaesthesia, Royal Society of Medicine (1955-56), the Association of Anaesthetists (1956-59), the Liverpool Society of Anaesthetists (1962-64) and the Liverpool Medical Institution (1974-75). He was active in the British Medical Association and the Medical Defence Union of which he was Vice-President (1954-61 and 1983-88) and served as Hon. Treasurer (1976-81).  He also devoted time to serve as a much respected member of the Liverpool Bench from 1966-1983.  

Cecil, a man of great charm, talent and boundless energy was a gifted teacher, inspiring students, trainees and colleagues with devotion and enthusiasm. His advice, either deliberately sought or volunteered was always sound. No problem was insurmountable. Consequently he had a profound influence on the lives of many whose progress he followed assiduously and with considerable pride. A good friend and mentor of many, friendships made endured.    

 Cecil was married twice. In 1937 he married Marjory Kathleen (nee Hely), a talented amateur actress and artist by whom he had two children, David and Beverley. Marjory (Margot) died in 1978. In 1979 he married Pamela Mary (Corning). Their son James Frederick was born in 1981. He had five grandchildren.

Cecil, a true native of Liverpool, was a generous, entertaining host with a wicked sense of humour. He had a passion for amateur dramatics as both a player and producer of the Irish Players for over twenty years.  An accomplished pianist and opera lover his musical interests included membership of the Royal Philharmonic Society, the Liverpool Welsh Choral Society and the Verdi Society. The night before he died he gave a faultless rendition of Debussy’s ‘Clair de lune’.

            [ I am grateful to Mrs Pamela Gray for providing the bibliographical details used.]

We are grateful to Dr. Anne Florence for this biography.


Last updated: 27 September, 2012 LSA