© National Portrait Gallery, London
Arthur Lawrence Abel
by Elliott & Frywhole-plate glass negative, 1951Given by Bassano & Vandyk Studios, 1974NPG x99940
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22 April 2016, 12:51
Arthur Lawrence Abel was born on 15 November 1895, the son of the Reverend Arthur E Abel, a congregational minister, and he preached in his father's pulpit at the age of 18 years. He did his medical training at University College Hospital, graduating in 1917. He obtained the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1920 and the MS in 1921.
In the first world war he served as a temporary Surgeon Lieutenant in the Royal Navy spending most of his time with Atlantic convoys. He was house surgeon to Wilfred Trotter and then at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, when he met and later married Dr Margaret Paterson; he worked with the Ministry of Pensions and was demonstrator of anatomy at the London School of Medicine for Women. He held the post of surgical registrar at the Cancer Hospital (now the Royal Marsden) for five years which exerted a profound influence on his subsequent career stimulated by outstanding surgeons including Ernest Miles. He developed a superb technique in the surgery of the colon and rectum. He was however prepared to tackle lesions of all sorts in any region of the body.
He had a distinguished career at the Royal College of Surgeons - Jacksonian Prizeman in 1924 for work on oesophageal obstruction, Hunterian Professor of 1926 and Bradshaw lecturer in 1957. He was a member of the Council from 1947 to 1963 and a Vice-President, 1956-57. He was surgeon to the Princess Beatrice, Gordon and Royal Marsden Hospitals and to the Institute of Cancer Research. He was a member of the British Medical Association for over thirty years and much involved in its work from 1944 when he first represented Marylebone on this representative body. He was chairman of the division and President of the Metropolitan Counties Branch in 1951, Vice-President of the Section of Surgery in 1952 and President in 1958 and was a member of more than thirty committees over the years. He was elected to the Council of the Association in 1946 and served until 1970. At the annual meeting in Bristol he received the Honorary Degree of MD from Bristol University. He developed a large hospital practice but also an extensive private practice. His exuberance, uninhibited personality and flamboyance in dress, all made him a popular and sought after post-graduate lecturer in this country and abroad. His didactic style and challenging dogmatism drew large audiences and he acted as visiting professor in leading surgical centres in Australia and South and North America. Indeed he was in Canada en route from South America to Australia when his last illness began. He was a Fellow of the American and Argentinian Oncological Societies and Honorary Member of the Society of Surgeons of Madrid, and Honorary Fellow of the American Medical Association. In London he was Honorary Fellow and Auditor, Orator in 1962 and President in 1963, of the Hunterian Society. He was also a Fellow and Past-President of the Harveian Society.
Lawrence Abel wrote many authoritative papers and an important book Oesophageal obstruction, its pathology, diagnosis and treatment. Whilst proctology and surgery of the colon and rectum were his principal interests, he was much concerned with cancer in general, and was a member of the Grand Council of the British Empire Cancer Campaign for Research. He was a surgeon of exquisite skill, his fine appearance often enhanced by one of the eighteenth or nineteenth century brocade waistcoats which he collected and his clear and incisive words made him easily recognisable, and he had a large and faithful band of friends. Mrs Abel died in 1963. They had one daughter and three sons, two of whom are doctors. One of them became a Fellow of the College in 1955.
He died on 18 February 1978.
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