Bryan Alton was born in Dublin where his father, Norman Bindon Alton, was a banker. He was educated at Castleknock College and then entered the medical school at University College, Dublin, where he graduated with honours and three gold medals.
After a house physician post at the Mater Hospital, Dublin, and a brief period of postgraduate study, he was appointed a consultant physician to the hospital at an early age. It was here that he was to spend his subsequent career and he was instrumental in bringing about the first valvotomy operation there. He was later visiting consultant to the James Connolly Memorial Hospital, St Luke's Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital. His reputation grew rapidly and he soon built up a large, broad-based medical practice.
After an initial interest in cardiology he later turned to respiratory medicine and then to gastroenterology, introducing innovative techniques. His warm personality endeared him to his patients and he was dedicated to them. There was a time when academia beckoned to him but in the event the sheer demands of his professional commitment did not permit him to take this route.
In the Mater Hospital he chaired the medical council and was very much involved in the planning and development of the new hospital. He was a member of the board of management, who honoured his contributions by instituting the Alton Prize for medical research, to be awarded annually by competition.
He subsequently became interested in politics ana in 1965 was elected to the State Senate. For ten years, from 1963-1973, he was also a member of the Senate of the National University. He was a governor of University College from 1959-73 and he served as chairman of the postgraduate medical and dental board for ten years. For a number of years he was a member of Comhairle na nOspuideal. He was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1974 and extended the range of College activities in several directions, perhaps most notably in postgraduate medical education both at home and in the Middle East. He was particularly concerned to improve the financial state of College affairs and following his presidential term he became an able and astute College treasurer.
Bryan Alton was an authority on several subjects outside medicine and he found time for his artistic interests. He was a knowledgeable and keen collector of antique furniture, fine porcelain and objets d'art. He belonged to the Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin, was later elected a master member and became warden of the Company. He was also a director of the National Gallery. To all of his multiple activities he brought enthusiasm and vigour.
He was a gracious host in his elegant home, the repository of so many of his treasures which were enjoyed equally by his many friends. In 1950 he had married Winifred Mary, née Tempany, daughter of a physician and herself a practising anaesthetist. They had seven children, four sons and three daughters. The family provided loving support during his final illness. He died in his beloved Mater Hospital.
T B Counihan
* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."
[Proc.RCP Edin., Vol.21, No.3 (July 1991)]