Obituary: Norman Leslie Stokoe, eminent ophthalmologist who practised in Edinburgh, Fife and the Borders

Norman Leslie Stokoe, MB, ChB, (Edinburgh, 1945), Dip Ophthalm (RCS, h London, 1958), Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh, 1953), Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (Melbourne, 1958), Fellow of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. Born: 17 May, 1923. Died 23 August 2017, aged 94

Norman Leslie Stokoe has died at the age of 94

Norman Leslie Stokoe (always known as Leslie) was born in Edinburgh in 1923. The son of William Norman Stokoe and Annie Barbour (Henderson) Stokoe, he was the second of four children and extremely proud of his Edinburgh upbringing and education, being a graduate of Watson’s College and Edinburgh University.

There were strong scientific traditions on both sides of his family, and following their parents’ lead, Leslie, his two brothers and his sister became two medics, a veterinary surgeon and a biochemical research scientist. Although his university studies were affected by the Second World War, Leslie graduated as a Bachelor of Medicine (MB, ChB) in 1945. In 1944 he undertook a placement in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, where he trained in obstetrics, and attended 20 cases of labour, conducting 16 personally. Upon graduating he entered the Royal Army Medical Corps, rising to the ranks of Lieutenant (1946) and Captain (1948), and seeing service in Cambridge. It was during these formative early years in his career that Leslie chose and developed his specialism in ophthalmology. This choice reflected his love of physical sciences, and, in particular, optics. As a specialism, ophthalmic surgery was also particularly appropriate as Leslie’s dextrous fingers, with which he also made tiny, intricate models, were also perfect for delicate micro-surgery on eyes. Thus it was that Leslie began his civilian career as Registrar, then Senior Registrar, in ophthalmology in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (1948-1955).

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In 1949 Leslie married Agnes (Nancie) Wallace Campbell Storrar, the daughter of Sir John Storrar, then Town Clerk of Edinburgh. Medically qualified in her own right, she was to be his companion throughout his life, passing away just three months before him. Their two daughters, Fiona and Yvonne, were born in 1950 and 1952.

Leslie moved to a post as Senior Registrar in Ophthalmology at the Leeds General Infirmary with his young family in 1955, and then, in 1958, they emigrated to Adelaide in Australia. That was to prove a short-term adventure: in 1959 they returned to Leslie’s native Edinburgh, where he was to spend the rest of his life, apart from brief secondments to hospitals in Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Baghdad. Leslie held his post in Scotland as Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon in East Fife Hospitals (based at Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy) and the Royal Infirmary Eye Pavilion, Edinburgh, until his retirement in 1987.

He researched and published in the field of detachment of the retina and specialised in remedial surgery for sufferers of that condition. Leslie was well-respected for his forensic skills in diagnosing rare conditions, and he particularly delighted in his association with the Edinburgh Royal Blind School. His compassion and humanity shone through in his work with blind and partially-sighted children. He served as President of the Scottish Ophthalmological Club (1984-1985), and for many years was an adjudicator for the Fellowship Examinations of the Edinburgh Royal College of Surgeons. At various times in his career he held the title of Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, and Honorary Professor in the Department of Physiology in the University of St. Andrews.

Leslie developed a flourishing private practice, using consulting rooms in his house in Bruntsfield and in Moray Place. The admixture of medical practice and his hobbies had significant impact on his family’s daily life at home. A keen yachtsman, who raced at Linlithgow and in the Firth of Forth, he built a yacht with his own hands, although when it was finished he declared it to be too heavy to move with appropriate speed.

The consulting room in his house also served as the boat builder’s workshop, and when the room was required for professional purposes, the family had to be rounded up to carry the hull into an adjacent room where it could be hidden out of sight behind curtains.

After retiring in Edinburgh, Leslie continued to practise part-time in the Borders, and took the opportunity to pursue his interest in the history of ophthalmic surgery, by researching the hagiography of Lucy, the patron saint of the blind, and through volunteering in the Surgeons’ Hall Museum of the Edinburgh Royal College of Surgeons.

Leslie was a long-standing communicant in Greenbank Parish Church and an established member of the choir. He was a passionate photographer, a trait which he may have inherited from his mother, and greatly enjoyed recording his travels and family events.

He died peacefully in his sleep after a long struggle with heart disease and is survived by his sister, Nancy, his two daughters, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

PROF STEPHEN HILL