Alf Gunning was born in 1918, so when I first observed him in action, he was approaching retirement from the NHS. Although he looked his age, he didn’t act it. He was a short wiry bristling fellow who was omnipresent at the John Radcliffe and Churchill hospitals in Oxford. He was a bit of demon at playing squash, apparently. You could spot him a mile off as he always wore a white coat with short sleeves, as if ever-ready to dive into some surgical maelstrom.
Here is an excerpt from his obituary (2011). Please read it! :
He was a remarkably unassuming surgeon who nevertheless inspired dedication in those who worked with him. On one occasion he entered the ward late at night and was mistaken by the nurse for the plumber, and was asked to repair a leaking tap. He fixed the tap and then asked the nurse if he could now do his ward round!
He was a member of Pete’s Club, a travelling surgical club where the only rule was that ‘no case that is presented shall throw credit on the presenter’. Only errors of judgement were discussed, and members consequently learnt a tremendous amount, much more than at other national surgical meetings.
I can confirm as an eye-witness that Alf was gifted with the precious gift of un-self-consciousness. There was no pride or guile in him. He possessed pure unalloyed surgical genius, and he wielded it very well. He saved and improved many lives through his works. I wish I could show a picture of him, but the internet has not been helpful this time.
*Not only was he short in stature, but the only time I saw him, in his blazer and tie, purchasing a drink at the Green College bar, it was a half-pint of shandy.