Frederic Stanley William Brimblecombe was born at Martock, Somerset, where his father Stanley Leemore Brimblecombe was the general practitioner and his mother Mary née Gill was the daughter of a gentleman farmer. He was educated at Blundell’s School, Tiverton, and St Mary’s Hospital medical school, University of London. His first junior post was as house physician to Sir George Pickering [Munk's Roll Vol.VII, p.464] and Reginald Lightwood [Munk's Roll VoLVIII, p.282] at St Mary’s Hospital, followed by service in the RAMC from 1945-47 in South East Asia and North Africa. He reached the rank of captain and after demobilization he obtained his membership of the College, rapidly followed by his MD and DCH.
In November 1948 he became house physician to Alan Moncrieff, later Sir Alan [Munk's Roll Vol.VI, p.343], at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. From 1951-52 he was senior lecturer and acting assistant director of the paediatric unit at St Mary’s, where he pioneered the very successful scheme for domiciliary care of acutely sick children in Paddington by hospital medical and nursing staff. Then followed a year as consultant paediatrician to Harold Wood Hospital after which, m 1954, he moved to become the first consultant paediatrician at Exeter. After his election to the fellowship of the College he served as examiner from 1965-83 and as a councillor from 1974-77. He was Milroy lecturer in 1979.
His insight into the needs of sick children enabled him to develop a first class hospital service for them in Exeter, including a large neonatal unit where a considerable reputation for important research was achieved. The Exeter Paediatric Research Unit was established in 1967 with the help of funds raised mainly through his personal contacts. In recognition of his contribution to these developments Freddie Brimblecombe was appointed to an honorary chair of child health at Exeter University in 1978 and in 1980 the University recognized the research unit as a department of the postgraduate medical school.
Freddie’s concern for the many unmet needs of disabled children, as they grew into young disabled adults and the impact on their families, led to a study of the treatment, educational and occupational needs of these patients in the community, rather than in residential care. It also led to the establishment of the Honeylands Children’s Centre in Exeter which was a unique development and for which he obtained active participation and resources from the NHS, the local authority education and social services, and voluntary bodies. He regarded it as a model project and it was widely publicized. He also set up a registry for congenital malformations, for many years the only genetic counselling service in the south-western region.
His academic achievements included many papers on paediatrics, especially social paediatrics. Together with Reginald Light wood, he published a textbook Donald Paterson's sick children ..., 8th edition, London, Cassell, 1963 (other editions by Donald Paterson), which was standard reading. In 1968 he spent a year in Khartoum as WHO professor of child health to a newly established department of the University and was subsequently invited to return there on many occasions as an adviser. He was an examiner and a popular lecturer at several British universities and at the Royal Colleges.
Freddie’s intellectual ability, enthusiasm and powers of persuasion made him a very popular chairman of both medical and other societies in Exeter and Devon. As chairman of the paediatric subcommittee of the south western regional hospital board it was his wisdom and determination that helped to resolve many problems and led to improved facilities for the paediatric services throughout the region. He earned the gratitude of his paediatric colleagues.
In 1975 he was appointed CBE. In 1978 he became chairman of a new national body, The Children’s Committee, which was to consider the implementation of the Court Report on the Child Health Services (1974). To Freddie’s disappointment this body was disbanded a few years later with only partial achievement of its purpose. He was an adviser to the National Children's Bureau, the Health Visitors Association, the Lady Hoare Trust and the Northcott Medical Foundation. He played an active role in the British Paediatric Association and was elected an honorary member in 1984. After retirement from his hospital commitments, his academic activities and committee work continued and included the chairmanship of the Friends of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospitals.
Freddie Brimblecombe had a warm and endearing personality. His colleagues likened his appearance to a big teddy bear, with bright blue eyes and a disarming smile. In discussion he never finished a sentence but ended his words with a characteristic giggle as the meaning was already clear - and usually acceptable. He had a great gift for friendship and for facilitating happy team relationships, in which he was always firmly in control.
He was very happily married to Esther née Stone, daughter of a colonial administrator, and they lived in a charming house in the village of Clyst St Mary, outside Exeter, where they were active in local life. They had two children, Nicholas and Sarah. Freddie was churchwarden, often played in the village cricket team and gave generous hospitality to many visitors. His other interests were in literature, art and listening to classical music.
When his terminal illness was diagnosed as acute lymphoma he accepted it with characteristic fortitude and tranquillity. He died at home. His wife, their children and two grandchildren survived him.
[Brit.med.J., 1993,306,88; The Times, 5 Jan 1993;The Independent, 5 Jan 1993;The Guardian, 10 Feb 1993; The Daily Telegraph, 11 Jan 1993]