Dr Timothy Chambers, OBE, JP, DL, FRCP

Doctor of Science

Wednesday 20 July 2016 at 11.15 am - Orator: Professor John Henderson 

Madam Chancellor,

Soldier, statesman, politician, scholar. Words that describe a former Chancellor of our University and which can be applied equally to today’s honorary graduand, Dr Timothy Chambers. But first and foremost, Tim is a physician and has spent his professional life in service; service to the NHS, service to his colleagues, service to his community and most importantly in the service of his patients. Tim’s rich and varied career sets a fine example to those of you graduating today. It speaks to the rewards of recognising and being prepared to seize upon the myriad opportunities that lie before you as you embark on your medical careers.

Tim Chambers graduated from King’s College Hospital and pursued a career in paediatrics, becoming Tutor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Leeds, where he came under the influence and tutelage of Roy Meadow. He cites Roy as a major influence on his own style of mentorship. Those of us fortunate enough to have been guided by Tim in our fledgling careers are only too grateful for those early lessons; as well as the counter-influence of those whom he swore never to work for again.

Before he was thirty, Tim was appointed to his first consulting post at Derby Children’s Hospital. Even in today’s world of run-through training and competency-based progression, this would be a remarkable achievement. Back then it was almost unheard of. With typical modesty, he ascribes this to the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time. With specialty training in paediatric nephrology, he took over the service in Derby but was soon on the move again when the centre of gravity shifted with the opening of the new medical school at the University of Nottingham. Derby’s loss was undoubtedly Bristol’s gain.

Tim was appointed to Bristol by Neville Butler, formerly Professor of Child Health in this University. Neville achieved fame for his pioneering work in longitudinal studies of childhood, which remains one of Bristol’s great research strengths, and notoriety for exploding a tin of beans while heating them on a bunsen burner in his office. Despite his chaotic ways, he was an underrated clinician who had a ‘certain way with parents’; an undoubted plus as a paediatrician and one which Tim adopted.

It is a sign of the times that Tim’s appointment in Bristol was not to the super-specialist, tertiary post that we would expect nowadays but was equally split between general, community, and renal paediatrics. However, Tim set about building one of the country’s finest paediatric renal units. His first, and possibly wisest step in all of this was to appoint Mary McGraw, whom he first encountered when she was an SHO in Nottingham and who to this day Tim regards as one of the finest doctors he has worked with. Thanks to this groundwork, Bristol now boasts not one, but two Professors of Children’s Renal Medicine.

Despite his commitment to building his specialty, Tim remained active in all branches of paediatrics, including neonatal medicine, continuing to terrorize those of us old enough to remember his unerring ability to find the one growth chart that hadn’t had the current week’s head circumference plotted.  However, Tim was not a doctor who ruled by fear and intimidation; rather those who worked for him were only nervous of letting him down by failing to aspire to his unerringly high standards.

I mentioned his soldierly activities in my introduction. As well as holding civilian consulting posts to the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Navy, Tim was a long-serving officer in 243 Field Hospital of the Royal Army Medical Corp Reserve, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. It was in this capacity that I recall one of the senior neonatal consultants arriving on the unit one morning clutching his sides. He had come across the now very senior and erudite Doctor Chambers peering over the top of his spectacles attempting to intubate at arm’s length a plastic mannequin.  He had been put on notice during the first Gulf War that he would be deployed to a civilian hospital in Germany and would need to brush up his resuscitation skills.

It may come as a surprise to many in the hall that the specialty of paediatrics is relatively new to British medicine. The British Paediatric Association was founded in 1928, being succeeded by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, which was granted its Royal Charter as recently as 1996. It was during the sometimes heated debates about the formation of a separate College that Tim emerged as a charismatic and much-respected leader of the Opposition, advocating for a stronger voice for children within the Royal College of Physicians.

Tim Chambers’ achievements are too numerous to mention. It is notable that those of which he is most proud involved improvements to the care of his patients; the foundation of the Seashore Children’s Unit in Weston-super-Mare and the Centralisation of Paediatric Services in Bristol. He worked tirelessly for both causes, skilfully guiding their evolution so they did not founder on the rocks of professional rivalries. Tim also believes that a member of a learned profession has a duty to contribute to civic life. In this he is nonpareil. He is a serving magistrate and Vice Lord-Lieutenant, formerly High Sheriff, of the City of Bristol.

I close with reference to a burden that every parent fears and which few have to bear. Tim was predeceased by his daughter Catherine, also a graduate in Medicine of this University. He was sustained by family, friends and his faith. It is coping with life’s experiences, good or ill, which fosters our humanity and ultimately makes us better doctors in the service of our patients. In this he had few equals.

Madam Chancellor, I present to you Dr Timothy Lachlan Chambers OBE as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.

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