Michael Swallow (1928 - 2018):
Michael Swallow managed to combine his considerable interest in the Arts, especially music, with a most distinguished medical career especially in the field of Neurology.
Michael William Swallow was born in London. His father, William Percy Swallow, was a bank official; his mother was Evelyn Swallow née Macklow, William’s second wife. Michael was the only child of this marriage. In 1938, he became a chorister in the choir school of Westminster Abbey. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Abbey Choir School was evacuated to Christ’s Hospital School at Horsham and after two years, when it was obvious the war was going to be prolonged, the cathedral choir was temporarily disbanded and Michael went to Magdalen College School in Oxford. As a mature bass he sang at the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.
When the time came to choose a career path Michael seriously considered the music profession but with his mother’s support opted for Medicine. He enrolled at King’s College, London and the Westminster Hospital, where he was inspired to aim for a career in clinical neurology by Swithin Meadows, a consultant neurologist with an interest in neuro-ophthalmology. Having graduated in 1952, in 1956 he resumed his career, after National Service (in the RAMC stationed at Waringfield Military Hospital Camp, Moira, County Down), at Atkinson Morley Hospital, followed by the Westminster and Queen Square, where he was a registrar and a lecturer in neurology, resulting in publications on the peripheral nerves. Also at Queen Square was Louis Hurwitz, originally from Belfast, with whom Michael became friendly and when a vacancy arose in Belfast in 1964 he applied successfully. With Harold Millar and Louis Hurwitz, he became one of a team of only three neurologists to work in Northern Ireland at that time.
He developed interests in neuro-ophthalmology, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, rehabilitation and muscle disease. His clinical practice included the RVH, Claremont Street, Belfast City Hospital, the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and units for the chronically disabled in Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast and Thompson House Hospital in Lisburn. He also travelled to Altnagelvin and Coleraine hospitals to conduct regular outreach clinics. A facet of neurology that particularly interested him was the assessment of disabled children with multiple handicaps. He enjoyed the considerable challenges of trying to help such children and their families.
When Michael was appointed to succeed Sydney Allison in 1964, he was with Harold Millar and Louis Hurwitz, one of a team of only three neurologists to work in Belfast (and extending throughout Northern Ireland) at that time. Gifted teachers of undergraduate and postgraduate students, case demonstrations were held three times per week in the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) and Claremont Street Hospital. These sessions would influence generations of Belfast medical graduates.
Relationships with colleagues in neurosurgery, neuroradiology, psychiatry, neuropathology were fostered in the weekly interdisciplinary case discussions and in the wider province in the Ulster Neuropsychiatric Society, which he served as honorary secretary for over 10 years.
A facet of neurology that particularly interested him was the assessment of disabled children with multiple handicaps. He enjoyed the considerable challenges of trying to help such children and their families. From 1988 to 1989 he wrote a report on the provision of services for disabled adults in Northern Ireland (“Health services for adults with physical disability. A survey of provision by the Health and Social Services Boards in Northern Ireland in 1988-89.” Ulster Med J. 1991 Apr;60 Supp:S1-28).
Michael’s interests in music therapy enabled him to combine neurology, rehabilitation and music. In 1995, he was awarded an OBE for services to music therapy and arts for disabled people. He formed a close association with the entertainer Sir Richard Stilgoe, working on many music therapy projects with professional musicians and music therapists. In his retirement ran summer chamber music schools in the Dordogne and Tuscany.
Michael Swallow’s reputation in neurological circles was high within Ireland. With Dublin-based Eddie Martin, he helped to form the Irish Neurological Association (INA) in 1964. In the early days meetings alternated between Belfast and Dublin. Entertainment was often centred on the Swallow home in south Belfast (“a true hub of cultural and artistic life in the city”) with good food and wine, and later with musical entertainment around the piano. In 2014, Michael was an honoured guest at the 50th meeting of the INA in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, attended by over 150 people.
In Belfast, he enjoyed leading amateur musical productions in a wide range of styles from oratorio to jazz. The founding choirmaster of the Royal Victoria Hospital Choir for many years, he directed memorable performances of Fauré’s Requiem in 1974 and of Bach’s St John Passion in April 1976. He was associated with the St George’s Singers and the Ulster Orchestra. He served on the board of the orchestra for many years; indeed, visiting eminent soloists such as the outstanding pianist John Lill enjoyed overnight accommodation in the Swallow household. Michael enriched the cultural life of Belfast in very many respects, serving on the arts and the environment committee in the RVH and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. When not actually performing he was a familiar figure at concerts and other events, easily catching the eye with his distinguished white hair.
From 1988 to 1989 he wrote a report on the provision of services for disabled adults in Northern Ireland (“Health services for adults with physical disability. A survey of provision by the Health and Social Services Boards in Northern Ireland in 1988-89.’ Ulster Med J. 1991). In his retirement ran summer chamber music schools in the Dordogne and Tuscany. In 1995, he was awarded an OBE for services to music therapy and arts for disabled people. He formed a close association with the entertainer Sir Richard Stilgoe, working on many music therapy projects with professional musicians and music therapists.
A gifted clinician, Michael was highly respected by consultant colleagues, trainees and nursing staff. He was very attentive to his patients, kind and caring. He had the ability to make his patients feel that he was devoting all his attention to them, and was on their side.
While still a medical student, he met his future wife, Barbara (née Drummond-Smith) – a chance encounter under the clock at Victoria Station when he was leaving on a skiing holiday that she was helping to organise. Ten years his senior, she was a glamorous, multilingual, independent lady, employed as a PA in Thomas De La Rue, a firm manufacturing bank notes. They married in 1956. They were devoted to each other until Barbara died in 2012 at the age of 93.
Michael Swallow was survived by his daughters Nicky, a musician in Florence, and Gemma, a theatre manager in Scotland.
He was admitted as a Member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1958 and as a Fellow in 1972.
|Born:||11 December 1928|
|Died:||13 May 2018|
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