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Dr Gerald Wilson Black, MB BCh BAO, PhD (died 10 July 2019)


Obituary taken from the British Medical Journal


Gerald Wilson Black (Gerry) completed his medical degree at Queen’s University Belfast. After a research fellowship in the department of anesthesiology, University of Pennsylvania, USA, he was appointed as consultant paediatric anaesthetist to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children (RBHSC) in 1960, in which capacity he served until his retirement in 1990. Much of his work involved the perioperative care of newborn infants and, recognising the need for more intensive medical and nursing care for critically ill children, he pioneered the development of paediatric intensive care in Northern Ireland. The paediatric intensive care unit in RBHSC, of which he was in administrative charge, was one of the first in the UK. He was recognised internationally as a leading authority in volatile anaesthetics and considered to be one of the outstanding anaesthetists of his generation.


For many years Gerry was involved in the investigation of the sympatho-adrenal, metabolic, and circulatory effects of the various inhalation anaesthetics. A close relation was found between plasma noradrenaline levels and peripheral resistance with different anaesthetic agents, an aspect of clinical pharmacology hitherto largely neglected, and much of this work is referred to in the standard textbooks of anaesthesia. Gerry’s PhD degree in 1969 was based on this research.


In 1976 he was invited by the Medical Research Council to co-organise a comprehensive clinical trial on the possible adverse effects of halothane and other anaesthetics on the liver, with emphasis on repeated administrations.


In later years Gerry was involved in studies of the haemodynamic and pharmacokinetic effects of volatile anaesthetics in children and the interaction of anaesthetics and muscle relaxants. He was a founder member of the Anaesthetic Research Society of Great Britain and a frequent contributor.


Gerry was totally dedicated to his work and hospital. He was president of the Northern Ireland Society of Anaesthetists (1979-81), chairman of the division of anaesthetics of the Royal Group of Hospitals (1979-81), president of the Ulster Paediatric Society (1981-82), chairman of the medical staff committee at RBHSC (1981-83), and chairman of the division of paediatrics of the Royal Group of Hospitals (1981-83). He was involved in all aspects of hospital life and was a familiar figure in the Royal Victoria Hospital as well as the Children’s Hospital.


Within the teaching hospital setting, he believed it important to combine research with clinical work. His interest in volatile anaesthetics continued throughout his career, and he had numerous publications to his name and presented many papers. Research fellows who worked with him testified to his thorough preparation of his subject matter and illustrative slides. He was appointed as honorary lecturer in paediatric anaesthesia, Queen’s University Belfast in 1986 and enjoyed teaching.


Among his many achievements, Gerry was a respected dean of the Faculty of Anaesthetists, Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (1982-85) and president of the Association of Paediatric Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (1984-86), of which he was a founding member, and was awarded honorary membership of the latter in 1995. He was vice president of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland (1981-83) and served on council from 1975 to 78. He was vice chairman of the Joint Committee for Higher Training of Anaesthetists, Royal College of Surgeons of England (1983-85), and was an examiner in the fellowship exams in both Ireland and England for many years. He found time for membership of both the American and the European Societies of Anesthesiology.


Gerry was highly respected and liked by his colleagues, and his wise counsel was often sought. He encouraged and supported junior doctors in their career development, inspiring many, and this he continued to do until his retirement. His unassuming manner and the consideration and kindness he showed to others ensured his popularity. He was a private and modest man yet gregarious, with a quick wit and dry sense of humour. Many a tense moment in the operating theatre was defused by an amusing aside from Gerry, delivered with perfect timing.


Keen on sport, Gerry played rugby and cricket as a schoolboy at Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and was awarded a cricket blue at Queen’s as a skilful left arm spin bowler. He travelled widely over the decades, making many lifelong friends along the way, and was invariably accompanied by Dorothy, his charming wife of 56 years. He had a great interest in history, maintained his enthusiasm for cricket and rugby throughout his life, and on retirement enjoyed more time on the course of Royal Belfast Golf Club.


Gerry’s interest in medicine was lifelong and he read The BMJ every week.


Predeceased in 2008 by Dorothy (who was an ophthalmologist), Gerry leaves their two daughters.


Remarkably gifted and always good company, he will be much missed.


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