William Cant was the maternal grandson of the Revd Charles Pinney who was vicar of Coleshill, Warwickshire for many years. He was born at Coleshill where his father, Arthurt Cant, one of the first medical graduates of the University of Birmingham, was in general practice for more than half a century. William was educated at West House Preparatory School in Birmingham, Shrewsbury and the University of Birmingham, but he graduated from the University of London in 1930, proceeding MD six years later and being elected a member of the College in 1936.
After house officer appointments, Cant was resident medical officer at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and later he was assistant clinical pathologist and in charge of the diabetic clinic at the Birmingham General Hospital, until 1938, when he returned to the Children’s Hospital as clinical pathologist. Soon after the outbreak of war he was placed in charge of the blood transfusion service in the Midlands, where his supremely efficient work was responsible for the later success of the West Midlands Regional Blood Transfusion Service, established with the National Health Service in 1948.
After the war he was appointed physician to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and as such was one of the first to specialize wholly in paediatrics; he was also elected paediatrician to the West Bromwich and District Hospital and the Lickey Grange School for Blind Children, and to these three institutions he gave devoted and unselfish service for the next twenty-four years of his life.
Always friendly, unassuming and anxious to help others, Cant was enormously popular, particularly with his students and residents, in whose welfare he took a great interest, but he knew all the nurses, porters, technicians and other workers in the hospitals where he worked, and each regarded him as their friend. For his patients and their parents he always seemed to have all the time they wanted, and he made each child, and the parents, feel that they were his most important problem.
Cant was a member of the British Paediatric Association, secretary and later president of the Midland Regional Paediatric Society, a lecturer and examiner in paediatrics in the University of Birmingham and also the university’s postgraduate clinical tutor in paediatrics. His work in this latter appointment was so highly regarded that when the postgraduate medical centre at the Children’s Hospital was opened it was named after him.
When he reached the age of 65, and in consequence had to retire from his consultant appointments, Cant was still full of energy and anxiety to serve his fellow men. His work at the Lickey Grange School for Blind Children had given him a keen interest in ophthalmology, and he took the Diploma in Ophthalmology in Dublin and became a clinical assistant in ophthalmology at the Birmingham and Midland Eye Hospital. Within a very short time he was the most respected and best loved person in the hospital, and he continued to work there until his death, doing an outpatient session on the morning of the onset of his fatal illness. Despite his age, his death cast a gloom over the whole hospital greater than any other event could have provoked.
Cant married in 1939 Isabel Martineau, a fellow medical student and daughter of CE Martineau, who held the chair of accountancy in the University of Birmingham. Their marriage was supremely happy and they had one daughter and one son. Cant’s wife came from a family with a tradition of unselfish and magnificent public service to the city of Birmingham, and her own splendid personality complemented her husband’s contribution to everything with which he was associated. Totally devoid of ambition, always humble and gentle, Cant’s life was devoted to helping others. He became a fellow in 1959 but took no great part in College affairs, though his life and his work were everything of which the College could be proud.
Cant was somewhat eccentric in the informality of his attire and his dedication to physical exercise. Despite increasing respiratory disability he continued to run and to play tennis until the end of his life. His interests were wide, and at the time of his death he was president of the Central Literary Association.
[Brit.med.J., 1981, 283, 798]