Edward Rowan Boland was born at Broughty Ferry, Scotland, the son of John Patrick and Margaret Boland. He was educated at Stonyhurst, Wimbledon College and Caen, France. He entered Guy’s Hospital as a medical student in 1915 at the age of 17 but after a few months volunteered for combatant service in the first world war. As a second lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade he served in France and Flanders where he was severely wounded, losing his left eye and subsequently requiring many operations on his left leg for osteomyelitis. He resumed his medical studies in 1918 and in spite of attacks of pulmonary tuberculosis and acute nephritis qualified with the Conjoint diploma in 1923. He held house appointments at Guy’s (house surgeon to E.G. Slesinger and house physician to Herbert French and Geoffrey Marshall) and was subsequently medical registrar. He was appointed assistant physician to Guy’s in 1934 having started the Preliminary Clinical Class a year or two earlier.
On the outbreak of the second world war he contrived to be placed in medical category Al, fit for active service, while still entitled to a 100 per cent disability pension from the first war. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the RAMC in 1940 and initially served in a field hospital with the 8th Army in the desert campaign. From 1942 to 1945 he became consulting physician to Allied Forces Headquarters in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Greece, holding the rank of Brigadier. A colleague at that time writes:- ‘His determined figure, with brigadier’s flashes on his battle-dress and a black shade over the eye that had been lost in the 1914-18 war, became a welcome sight to all medical specialists in the Mediterranean. He went everywhere and saw everyone; back at headquarters no one could deflect him from carrying through his plans for improving the efficiency of the medical services’. (G.F.G. 1972 Lancet 2, 548).
After the war he returned to clinical work at Guy’s, being appointed full physician in 1946. In addition he became Consulting Physician to the Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth. He was a general physician with a special interest in thoracic medicine and continued as physician in charge of the chest department until his retirement. As a teacher he emphasised the importance of bedside teaching and of fundamental clinical observation. He was a superb clinician. There was no one more adept at sifting the evidence and getting to the root of a difficult problem and no one better at making the right decision at the right time. His innate kindness and the respect and courtesy he displayed to his patients set an example to his junior staff that was difficult to emulate. They were devoted to him.
His flair for administration, no doubt developed during his war time experiences, led to many important appointments. He was Dean of the Medical and Dental Schools, Guy’s Hospital, from 1945 to 1965, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, University of London, 1948 to 1952 and later member of the Senate. He maintained his connection with the services, being Honorary Consulting Physician to the Army from 1945 to 1970, and chairman of the Army Medical Advisory Board. At the Royal College of Physicians he was Croonian lecturer in 1947, examiner, Senior Censor, member of council and a close contender for the Presidency. He became a member and treasurer of the General Medical Council and died in harness as Governor of Guy’s Hospital.
As an administrator he had the ability to adapt and the vision to plan ahead. He was a man of strong principles and was firm in his decisions. He was too big a person to harbour a grudge or to be petty. Beneath his stern exterior ‘Bo’, as he was affectionally known, had an easy charm, a delicious wit and was a most loyal friend. As medical dean he co-ordinated the changes that occurred in medical education at Guy’s and at the University of London and played a leading part in establishing and developing new medical schools in the Commonwealth. He was devoted to Guy’s which owes him an enormous debt. It was at his instigation that ways and means were found to save the original hospital from demolition and for it to be rebuilt as essential offices, quarters for nurses and residents and for dining and recreation rooms for students. As a lasting memorial the East Wing has been named Boland House.
In 1931 he married Barbara Scott who became a valued advisor on interior decoration to the hospital. She survived him; there were no children. He died peacefully at Hill House, Stowting, Kent, which he loved so much and where he enjoyed his chief recreation of gardening.
[Brit.med.J., 1972, 3, 649; Lancet, 1972, 2, 548; Times, 26 Aug 1972]