Philip Nolan 1937/2022 (Joe's 1945/1956)

Obituary by Ben Nolan QC (Joe's 1956/1966)

Philip John Nolan, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, Bachelor of Arts, Fellow of the Royal Society of General Practitioners.

A Man of science and a man of letters.

MBChB, B.A., FRCGP. My sister Kay and I would award him the further qualification of O.B.B.

Our Big Brother (though Philip would have pronounced that “Our Big Brother” (Lancashire accent). Although exiled in Yorkshire for nearly sixty years, he never lost his Lancashire accent. Born in Bacup, specifically at Siding Street in Stacksteads, Bacup on the 24th September 1937 he was just under two when the Second World War broke out on the 1st September 1939, and just under eight when it ended on the 2nd September 1945. Our sister Kay arrived about half way through the war in June 1942. What isn’t widely known is Philip and his baby sister had an extended family during the war. Our mother, through the goodness of her heart and out of a sense of national duty took in two young evacuees. You may or may not know that during the war years children from industrial towns and cities were evacuated to safer places to avoid the bombings. Bacup was deemed to be a safe place (presumably because there was nothing worth bombing in Bacup) and two girls, I think, slightly older than Philip, came to live with our Mum and Dad, Philip and Kay for a significant part of the war. It can’t have been easy. Shortages and rationing would have stretched resources but it was, I’d like to think an early-life example for Philip of typical Nolan generosity; generosity that was repaid because those two women in later life made a huge fuss of our Mum and visited her annually, generally at Christmas time, until shortly before she died in 2001.

It is fitting that Philip’s requiem mass has been said at St Joseph’s church. At the age of four Philip went to St Josephs R. C. primary school in Stacksteads. He made his first communion at St Joseph’s church in Stacksteads. At the age of eight he became a boarder at Saint Joseph’s College in Blackpool. He took his eleven-pus exam there but failed it. Apparently, his glasses fell apart during the exam and nobody noticed! He then took the school entry exam and passed it. St Joseph’s College was a direct grant grammar school and he was admitted on the basis that his parents paid both tuition and boarding fees. He remained a boarder there until 1956. Our father died suddenly in May 1951 aged 41. Remarkably, through a combination of hard work and thrift our mother continued to fund Philip’s education at St Joseph’s College and later, mine. I too failed the eleven plus: in my case there was no excuse! But I too passed the entrance exam and I started at St Joseph’s College, again as a boarder, at the age of nine so I started almost as soon as Philip left and our poor hard-working mother had a further ten years of school fees to pay.

Following Philip at St Joseph’s College was tough. He was good at everything and I was good for nothing! I was constantly being reminded of his intellectual and sporting legacy and almost always unfavourably being compared. When I said that Philip was good at everything, there was a notable exception. He wasn’t good with musical instruments. He played or tried to play the viola in the school orchestra. One year the school orchestra entered a competition. I think it might have been an Eisteddfod somewhere in Wales. For some reason, probably to do flu, measles or other epidemic event all the other school orchestras pulled out and St Joseph’s was the only orchestra left in the competition. Philip and all his chums played their little hearts out but when it came to prize-giving it was publicly announced that St Joseph’s Orchestra had been awarded second prize because they weren’t good enough for first!

In 1956 Philip passed his three science A-levels and went up to Manchester University to read Medicine. Although he had digs and was away some of the time, I seem to remember that he studied at home quite a lot and was around the house and helping out with domestic chores and looking after Kay and me to help our mum. Looking back in later life I think this was Philip ever mindful of his role as O.B.B. in a fatherly way.

Two things I remember well about his medical student days. One is that in his makeshift study in the basement of our family home he had a full-sized human skeleton. This was not a plastic replica. It was the real McCoy with wired up bones. Philip used it for the study of anatomy. I used it to scare all my mates. And O.B.B. sternly rebuked me for doing so!

The other thing that stands out is an event which made the pages of the local newspaper -the Rossendale Free Press where he was praised as a local hero. I think it was in 1960. Our house was very close to Stacksteads Railway Station from where there was a service to Manchester which Philip used to travel to university. There was an accident somewhere along the line when a young man was hit by the train that Philip was travelling on. Philip jumped off the train and immediately went to the young man’s assistance. The accident had severed the victim’s foot from his leg. Philip used his tie as a tourniquet to staunch the flow of blood and tended to him until the arrival of an ambulance. It may be that Philip saved that young man’s life. At least that’s what it said in the Rossendale Free Press. When I think about that incident I always consider that that young man had a day of mixed fortunes. Ill-fortune that he was hit by a train and seriously injured. Good fortune that travelling on that train was a medical student who knew exactly what to do and how to do it. And extraordinary good fortune that the medical student was probably the only student in 1960 that attended university wearing a tie!

Philip graduated in 1962. His first house job was at the Manchester Jewish Hospital. He then moved to Preston where, through 1963 and 1964 he had house jobs first in General Medicine and then in Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the Sharoe Green Hospital. It was at Sharoe Green that he met Nurse Evelyn Fitzmaurice. They met on Saint Patrick’s Day 1963. They got engaged on the 19th July 1963 (as it happened, my 15th birthday) and they married in Lancaster on the 31st March 1964 (the day after Easter Monday). I have always thought it was propitious that they chose to have their wedding reception at The Stork Hotel in Conder Green. The Stork delivered Margaret in March 1965 and kept returning.

In the meantime, in April 1964 immediately after a honeymoon in Matlock, Bath and Minehead they moved to Huddersfield and bought their first house at 16 Butternab Road. Philip’s first general practice job was as an assistant to Dr William Abell in Lockwood. He became a principal in that practice in October 1964 and one way or another stayed with that practice until his retirement in 2002. But the practice changed beyond recognition. Others were involved in the change and must take due credit for it. But I believe that Philip was a substantial driver of the change and with it the metamorphosis of the rather shabby consulting rooms in Lockwood into the state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary Health Centre in Meltham Road with space for a range of services linked to public health. Philip was very proud of the “new” health centre and its benefits to the wider community and rightly so.

In 1974 Philip became a member of the Royal College of General Practitioners. As with the other Royal Colleges, membership was by rigorous examination. But Philip was not to remain a mere country member. In 1975 and 1976 he attended the Nuffield course for course organisers in general practice in Uxbridge and, I think, at the Royal College itself in Princes Gate in London. This qualified him for his appointment later In 1976 as Course Organiser for Kirklees with responsibility for vocational training and continuing medical education. In this role he had to manage the rotation of trainee GPs through the hospital and GP jobs, to assist in the appointment of trainers and trainees, to run day-release courses for trainee GPs and to run regular medical education workshops. This heavy responsibility for the continuing medical education of General Practitioners continued throughout the Nineteen Eighties. In 1988 he became chairman of the board of the Yorkshire faculty of the R.C.G.P. and in 1989 to 1991 its Provost. For all this he was honoured by being made a Fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners, a rare distinction of which he was rightly proud.

During his time as provost of the Yorkshire faculty the President of the Royal College paid a visit to Yorkshire. The President was and I believe still is H.R.H. The Prince of Wales and as Philip put it at the time “I had to meet him”. Of course O.B.B was a quiet republican and would happily have abolished the monarchy. History doesn’t record whether he discussed his views with H.R.H.!

Despite his academic and educational responsibilities with the Royal College, Philip remained at the coal-face of General Practice and continued to see patients until his retirement in 2002. In particular he continued to make house calls often out of hours and during the night. It was said of him that he would never decline to visit a patient when a patient needed him however spurious the apparent need might have appeared to be.

During his later years in practice Philip developed a special interest in Neuro-linguistic Programming (N.L.P). It was, I understand. a relatively new form of psychological therapy. Philip was determined to learn all about it. He went on various courses; one I remember was in Hawaii; another was in Paris. He practised his newly acquired skills and techniques at the Health Centre in Huddersfield in ways which significantly improved the mental and physical health of many of his patients.

Philip retired in in 2002 and with Evelyn, immediately enrolled as an undergraduate at Leeds University to take a Batchelor of Arts degree in Modern Chinese Studies. Don’t ask me why! Like Mount Everest, I suppose because it was there and it was a challenge! He had a serious setback in his first year when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer and needed radical surgery. Undaunted, he repeated his first year and sailed through and ultimately was awarded a B.A. with Honours. As part of the course, he and Evelyn spent a year in Taiwan where they lived in student accommodation and made a number of Taiwanese friends. In 2010 they returned to Taiwan en route to Australia for a visit to David and family. Their Chinese friends were still there so they were able to renew their acquaintance and brush up on their Chinese.

Central to Philip’s life was his religion and his family. He has complied quite a detailed diary of his life, particularly of his later years in which he chronicles his and Evelyn’s travels. Margaret sent it to me and I am very grateful to her. Reading this diary, it reinforces that which we all knew, namely that family meant the world to him and that he was never happier than when they were travelling to see family whether it was to David and family in Australia, to Ben and family in France, to Margaret and family in Sheffield, to Pauline and family in Edinburgh or whether on holiday with Fran & Ryan in Majorca or Tenerife. One striking thing about these chronicles is that he always mentions where and when they went to mass, the language in which the mass was said and often the name of the priest!

Mass and the sacraments were important to him. It was, I believe, a considerable comfort to him that he received the sacrament of the sick at the Leeds General Infirmary shortly before he died. It will, I hope, be of comfort to Evelyn and the family to know that when he died he knew that he was within the bosom of his family and he was utterly at peace with his Maker. He was a good man. Yes, we will mourn his passing but we must also celebrate a great life.

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