Obituary: Dr Cyril Cohen, OBE, JP, FRCPEd, FRCPGlas, geriatrician

Dr Cyril Cohen
Dr Cyril Cohen
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Born: 2 November, 1925, in Manchester. Died: 8 June, 2013, in Aberlemno, Angus, aged 87

Cyril Cohen was essentially an accidental geriatrician. After completing his housemanship in Manchester following the Second World War, the young doctor was having difficulty securing another post. When he heard of a job in Scotland, at Stracathro Hospital near Brechin, he grabbed the opportunity of work.

The position was in geriatric medicine, something he knew virtually nothing about, and he intended only to stay a mere six months. But by sheer good luck he discovered he had found his métier. Though he fell into the niche it suited him and he stayed until he retired, developing an enthusiasm for the field that spilled over from his professional duties into a lifelong concern for the elderly in his own community and across the country.

Born in Manchester, he was educated at the city’s Central High School and was interested in medicine from a young age. He gained his medical degree from Manchester’s Victoria University, during which time his national service was deferred until he completed his studies. He then spent two years in the Army Medical Corps and, after serving his time as a houseman, found he was competing in the jobs market along with doctors leaving the services.

As a result, in the 1950s, he went for the post at Stracathro simply because it was a job. However, he quickly took to the field and found the elderly interesting. Geriatrics was emerging as a new specialty and, working under Dr Oswald Taylor Brown, Scotland’s first consultant physician in geriatric medicine, he rapidly progressed. He became a registrar, then was appointed a consultant while still in his 30s and became a fellow of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In 1967 he married Betty, a dietician whom he had met at Stracathro in 1956, and joked in his non-stop wisecracking way, that he came into the kitchen for a diet and went out with a wife.

He had an innate sense of comedy and a quip for every occasion, his perpetual humour bubbling throughout the day from breakfast to bedtime. He had an easy, philosophical attitude to things, said his long-time friend and colleague, Dr Donald MacNeill, and as a result had a warm, open approach to patients, colleagues and people in general.

At Stracathro he enjoyed the ethos and environment that made it a pleasant friendly place to work but he also had geriatric beds at Arbroath Infirmary and in an annexe at Little Cairnie and made a point of doing home visits prior to patients’ admission to work out how best he could help once they became his in-patient.

Outside his own hospital duties he was an honorary senior lecturer in geriatric medicine at Dundee University and was seconded for three years as director of the Scottish Hospital Advisory Service, an organisation, he noted, that was originally coined the Scottish Hospital Inspection Team, until it was realised it would result in an unfortunate acronym.

Something of a workaholic, who never went on holiday until the arrival of his two adopted sons, he also authored and contributed to numerous papers on geriatric medicine and care of the elderly and held a string of posts in associated organisations, among many others.

He was past president of Forfarshire Medical Association and former chairman of: the Health Education Board for Scotland’s advisory group on health education for elderly people; Angus District and Tayside Area medical committees; the Scottish branch of the British Geriatric Society; Angus Access Panel; and Angus Care of the Elderly Group.

He was also honorary vice-president of the Dundee and District Branch, of the British Diabetic Association, a life member of Manchester Medical Society and sat on the Chief Scientist’s Committee for Research on Equipment for the Disabled and Health Services Research Committee.

In addition, Cohen, who was awarded the OBE in 1986, was a director of Angus Community Care Charitable Trust, Brechin Day Care and Angus Care and Repair as well as former vice-chair of Angus Association of Voluntary Organisations, a member of Age Concern Angus’ executive, a JP and honorary president of the hospital radio station, Radio North Angus.

He was also involved in local school councils and Forfar Academy School Board and gave 27 years’ service as secretary of his local Aberlemno Community Council where one of the ­issues he was most concerned about was the protection of the carved ­Pictish Aberlemno Stones.

In retirement he continued to keep a close eye on geriatric care and was dismayed by both reports of poor standards of care for the elderly in hospitals and homes and by what was happening in the health service over the last decade, often raising issues with the Scottish Government.

For a man with such a busy life, he had little time for hobbies but was a keen photographer and listed one of his recreations as simply “being at home”.

Predeceased by his son Michael, he is survived by his wife Betty, their son David and extended family.