Leonard Arthur was born in Peckham, London, the son of the Reverend John Arthur MC, and his wife Amy. Educated at Aldenham School, Elstree and Magdalene College, Cambridge, he qualified from the Middlesex Hospital in 1951. His house jobs were followed by two years National Service with the RAMC attached to the Durham Light Infantry serving in Korea, after which he decided on a career in general practice. However, ‘leafing through the advertisements in the BMJ, I eschewed family practice temporarily and hitched my wagon to Dr Jolly’s staff as paediatric registrar in Plymouth. By this time I had MRCP ... Having no particular place to go, I wrote to West India and the University of Ibadan and they appointed me as senior registrar without more ado ...’. After nearly three years in Ibadan, he completed his training in Bristol before his appointment as consultant paediatrician in Derby.
His early meandering career allowed him to develop his interest in family medicine, gastroenterology and growth and nutrition, although he was first and foremost a general paediatrician. Always keen to maintain the academic tradition in Derby established by his predecessor Douglas Hubble (q.v.), and colleague Bernard Laurance, Leonard produced a steady flow of papers and encouraged his juniors to do likewise. His article Non-accidental injury — what we do in Derby published in 1975, set the scene for changes in national policy in this field. He resisted successfully his colleagues’ attempts to increase admissions to the neonatal unit, insisting that unless sick, a baby should always be nursed next to the mother, thus pre-empting the current trend out of neonatal units to the wards by nearly a decade.
Although hospital based, Leonard saw himself as a community paediatrician before the word was invented, forging personal links with psychologists, social workers, teachers, parent groups, police and others, to built a truly comprehensive team. It was this approach combined with his honesty, compassion and integrity which enabled him to break new ground in child abuse management.
Leonard was a keen teacher, especially on ward rounds and case presentations, where his critical approach would often unnerve the unprepared. He would follow his juniors’ careers with great interest and they were generally devoted to him. When he introduced a screening programme for congenital hip dislocation to the postnatal wards, a prize of a bottle of champagne went to the first successful hunter. The success of an early morning journal club was secured when Leonard arrived with fresh, hot, crusty bread under his arm — a tradition which continues still. A midsummer lunchtime biochemistry meeting, marred by a lack of the usual refreshments, was resurrected when he nipped out to return with a box of choc-ices from the corner shop. He enjoyed getting down to meetings of the Royal Society of Medicine, when he succeeded in catching the train, and was secretary to the section of paediatrics in 1972-1973. It should be recorded that in 1973 he first refused fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians, on conscientious grounds - he eventually accepted it in 1983 ‘to please his friends’, which it did.
Leonard was a champion of the weak or poor and showed considerable tenacity in furthering their cause both publicly and in many small ways in his work, from a portable telephone for his child inpatients, to wholemeal bread for their meals. It was in his dealings with parents that Leonard was particularly skilled — he would wrap a badly handicapped baby carefully, give it to the mother to hold, then unwrap it gradually and explain the abnormality. His compassionate approach allowed him to develop close relationships with the parents of the many mentally, physically and socially deprived children he cared for over the years.
It was therefore ironic that in 1981, Leonard Arthur should be charged with the attempted murder of a Down’s baby. The response of his medical colleagues in Derby to his suspension from work was immediate and unanimous, and resulted in his continuing to work while awaiting the three weeks trial after which he was acquitted of all charges. The community, and especially the many parents of handicapped children for whom he had cared, lent their vociferous support in the long months preceding the trial. Inevitably the ordeal took a terrible toll, shattering his self-confidence, but he bore no grudge against those who had accused him. He regretted he was unable to give evidence at his trial; his views on management of severely handicapped babies were carefully considered and had previously been published. Although no change in the law followed as he had perhaps hoped, the public debate of the issues eased the task of his fellow paediatricians.
A little over a year after his trial, he developed an inoperable brain tumour. Typically, he put off his radiotherapy for a couple of days to attend the annual meeting of the British Paediatric Association, and then continued to work during the course of his treatment. When the inevitable progression prevented him physically from working, he would still turn up for clinical meetings on sticks, crutches or Zimmer frame, woolly hat pulled over his irradiated head, and polythene bag containing journals and dictaphone in his good hand. Using the latter, he continued to reel off letters in his patients’ interests to the end, and also produced a whimsical tale of how bureaucracy was by-passed to replace the curtains in his hospital room (Lancet, 1983, 2, p.843).
Trying to write his obituary, he produced the following brief account of his eighteen years in Derby. ‘Finally I had a conventional career since 1965 if not before. I have adopted Derby and Derby has adopted me, and it has been a happy association. I remember saying some years ago that my bones would whiten in Derbyshire. There was a slight upset two years ago when I was tried for murder. It lasted about three weeks and I was well defended. My contact with the lawyers converted me to enormous respect for them, a profession I had only hitherto touched at a distance. Not only did I learn to respect them, I also realized for the first time that they were truly concerned about the right and wrong of their cases’.
Leonard was married to Janet, daughter of Lord Brain, and they had six children. He loved his home and the village where he was a valued member of their successful radio quiz team, and bell ringer. One year he held a party in the church hall for the old and poor who had not been invited to the Christmas cocktail party. It was his village friends who buried him in their church at a delightful funeral service. His dedication to the people of Derbyshire and their love for him was acknowledged by the huge congregation which overflowed Derby Cathedral at his memorial service
[Brit.med.J., 1984, 288, 334; Lancet, 1984, 1, 115 & 236; Times, 5 Jan 1984; Guardian, 6 Nov 1981]
Post publication addition
Arthur was a member of the UK Eugenics Society. For more information see Our values