Sir E. A. J. (Tony) Alment

E. A. J. (Tony) Alment

1922-2002

Tony Alment died on March 6, 2002 at the age of 80 after a prolonged illness with colon cancer. His funeral was attended by seven Presidents or ex-Presidents, Bill Dunlop, Geoffrey Chamberlain, Stanley Simmons, George Pinker (in spite of being paralyzed and virtually blind), Mole Foroze, Jack Dewhurst and John Peel. Such was the great affection that this man produced in so many people.

It feels strange that only Paul Barnett and I worked with him on Council, and to the majority of Council members, he will be as remote a person as any of the founders of the college. Let me tell you that if you met this rather rounded, avuncular, twinkling character for all of ten minutes, he would strike you as the most articulate and intelligent person you had every met. Such was his learning and his gift of words.

He came from a medical family. His father was a general practitioner/surgeon in Watford. He was educated in Marlborough, excelled in the classics and modern languages. He seemed not to be a great sportsman although he was an enthusiastic cyclist in the countryside which he loved and soon developed his long term passion for church architecture. He claimed not to be a great scientist also but he was still awarded a scholarship to Queen's College, Cambridge and subsequently to Barts. His lasting interest in surgery came from working amongst the casualties cased by the V1 attacks over London. In 1945 Smithfield Market was hit with appalling loss of life. This made a considerable impression on him and he published a poem the following year.

It was quiet
After the motor of the flying bomb
Had stopped above
Little people in the streets below
Going about the day's civilian tasks.

Studious days
When we sat with books by the fire,
Until the shattering, unheralded roar
Brought days and nights of toil
Among the dusty living and the bloody dying
Here at home.

This poem was typical of the ornate language and the beautiful imagery that he used. I would also say that the poem does not contain a comma or pause from breath. That was also somewhat typical.

He was appointed to the Senior Surgical Team led by Sir Geoffrey Keynes and worked with Wilfred Shaw, Donald Fraser and John Howkins as well as Charles Reid and Frederick Gibberd. He obtained his MRCOG in 1951 and started his training post in London Hospital and Barts. He pursued research in the fields of fetal monitoring, building and developing the equipment to assist him in this work.

He married Elizabeth, a Barts nurse, who was to be his strongest support and companion throughout his life.

To the surprise of many, he turned his back on London and took a consultant job in Northampton by choice and not because he failed to be appointed to a teaching hospital.

He was member's rep on Council and together with Stanley Simmons made-up the awkward squad on one corner of the council room. He was on many other committees and was Honorary Secretary for six years, a position which he held with enormous distinction and success. During this time, he chaired the Committee of Enquiry into Competence to Practice which was published in 1976. It was ahead of its time and very slowly twenty years later, it was being put into practice. Many people thought that this delay was a lost opportunity. As Fellows Rep he was persuaded to run for Presidency, but he said he would only do so if there were overwhelming support; nobody stood against him.

The Council meetings were always entertaining because Tony would spend at least three-quarters of the time talking, summarizing documents, summarizing argument and occasionally picking on a young member who was perhaps not paying attention. The language was beautiful, sometimes over the top, sometimes not quite comprehensible, particularly to those taking the minutes; I am told.

He liked order and I recall when I first spluttered my discontent about Birthright grants, he merely said, "Thank you Mr. Studd, you can now sit down". Bob Atlay as Honorary Secretary was very close to him and went often with him to JCC meetings and tells of the enormous respect that all the Presidents had for his intellect, fair play and the easy assessment of a difficult problem.

He had a clear vision of the problems for the future. He strongly supported and facilitated part-time training for women, was very accessible to the emerging feminism views on delivery and continued as well as to pursue his fitness to practice views. I came across a memorial lecture that he gave to the American college in 1980 called "Squaring the Triangle" in which he outlined the problems about to face the British National Health Service. It makes truly prophetic reading. Before we leave the College, I ought to say that the College was his family. He was approachable and well loved by all the college staff, and by his approachability and kindness his industrial relationships were years before their time.

Tony's knowledge and interests in wine was enormous. As College Cellarer he bought many fine wines at a knock down price. He had the rare distinction, particularly for an Englishman, of being a Chevalier du Tastevin and the commander du Bontemps Medoc. After every College dinner he would give the gathering information about the wines that they had had for dinner. It was the high point of the after dinner speeches. I remember Mike Brudenell whispering to me, "it may all be rubbish but by god it is impressive rubbish". After his three years as President, he left the college and left medicine. It was usual for the past President to spend a year on Council aiding the new President. Tony thought that Mole Foroze did not need that and went into a happy retirement, rarely coming to the College except to advise on the cellars, never again going to the Traveller's which he regarded as becoming a golfing society.

He retired to the country, his many friends, his fishing and traveling, often cycling around the English countryside that he loved so much. He was an expert on early Norman Churches and recently published a chapter on church fonts and their designs and arcades and also a BMJ paper "How important is a fly in trout fishing".

On top of all of his talents, he was a brilliant engineer. In his garage he built a workshop and a forge, building and repairing mechanical objects for friends, ranging from simple soldering jobs to manufacturing spare car parts for his friend's antique motor cars. When an old fishing friend of his became an invalid following a stroke, he built him a special wheelchair to enable him to continue fishing. He also had a device to enable the pouring of fine wines without the sediment.

As the Reverend Steven Trott said at the funeral address, "One of the most extraordinary aspects of Tony's life was the extraordinary goodness of a man whose sensitivity, compassion, gentleness and enthusiasm for everyone and everything he encountered.

Finally, on browsing the net, I came across a letter written last year when he knew he was ill to the Daily Telegraph. I want to read it to you because it is typical of the Churchillian resonance and strengths of his words:

Sir -- In the grave circumstances hanging over stock farmers, it is the consequences to their personal health that I see as the deepest call to conscience of those who, while not themselves affected, regard themselves as farmers' friends.

There is a charity, the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (with which I have no connection). It reaches out to circumstances of personal distress in the farming community. My reaction to the present disaster is to send a large contribution to it. I hope others may be moved to do the same.

He was a wonderful man who had a very good life surrounded by the happiness of his own creation.

Submitted by John Studd, M.D.

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