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Bill Hendry

1938 - 2012

Obituary by Justin Vale, Consultant Urological Surgeon

William (Bill) Forbes Hendry died on 3 October 2012. He was one of the UK's most influential urologists in the 1980s and 1990s. He was President of BAUS from 1996 to 1998 and was a St Peter's Medallist in 1999. He was joint editor of the BJU with Hugh Whitfield, from 1992 to 1996, stepping down to take up his role as President of BAUS.

Bill was born on 15 June 1938, the son of an obstetrician. He was brought up in Nuneaton and educated at Uppingham School. He underwent his undergraduate training in Glasgow, following in the footsteps of his father, where he met and married Chirsty Macdonald. He won a Fulbright scholarship and spent two years studying in Boston, Massachusetts, before returning to Glasgow to continue his surgical training. When it was clear he wanted to specialise in urology, he was encouraged to move south to diversify and expand his skills, and became the Senior Registrar in Portsmouth.

In 1975, he was appointed to a Consultant post at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, with sessions at the Royal Marsden Hospital and Chelsea Hospital for Women. The split of his sessions between these sites was ultimately to determine his contribution to academia. He was quick to spot the important connection between oncology and infertility, and in particular the link between testicular cancer, retroperitoneal surgery and andrology. His scientific contribution had several distinct facets:

  • The realisation that retroperitoneal surgery following chemotherapy for germ-cell tumours had a real place, at a time when surgical wisdom really focused upon primary disease. This demonstrated an intellectual and philosophical bravery, quite aside from the challenging nature of the surgery.
  • He was one of the first urologists to address properly the issues of radical surgery versus radiotherapy in bladder cancer, and the role of salvage cystectomy.
  • He had a major interest in vasectomy reversal, male fertility and anti-sperm antibodies. He demonstrated that anti-sperm antibodies developing after vasectomy would often reduce following successful reversal, and that antibodies arising de-novo could be suppressed with high dose steroids. However in typically honest fashion, his publications conceded the possible complications of the high dose steroid regimen.

Bill was a patient and inspirational teacher, who became a role model for many of the people passing through his department. Some went on to model their surgical practice on his teaching (for example Mike Wallace in bladder cancer, Tim Christmas in testicular cancer), others on his philosophy (he was never late, was always at his desk in outpatients before the start time, and recorded nearly all of his operative procedures by taking home the Theatre patient call-cards which he stored in a cardex system). For those of us who worked with Bill, there are many aphorisms which have lived with us throughout our careers: "most ureteric stones pass spontaneously, particularly if you disregard them for more than a year", "be nice to anaesthetists; we cannot do operations without them", "don't rely on luck in surgery", "there are three steps to bladder emptying when doing a cystectomy; first empty your own bladder, then make sure your assistant has emptied his / her bladder and then empty the patient's bladder".

Bill was an innovator and was very far-sighted. He worked with Giles Brindley to develop both sperm reservoirs and techniques of electro-ejaculation for men with anejaculation. He anticipated the role that IT would have in our lives as doctors, developing an electronic patient record for patients with urothelial neoplasia in 1984, and moving to computer-generated slides using a quirky in-house system developed at Bart's long before the arrival of PowerPoint.

When it comes to Bill the person, there were two recurring themes that came out when gathering information for this brief summary of his life. The first was his selfless, understated generosity. When Bill invited Hugh Whitfield to co-author a new edition of "Textbook of Genito-Urinary Surgery", he insisted that it should be "Whitfield & Hendry" not "Hendry and Whitfield", when he realised that Hugh had devoted far more time to the project.

More information about the "Textbook of Genito-Urinary Surgery"

The second theme was his devotion to his family. He doted on his wife Chirsty, who sadly predeceased him by 6 months after a long decline with Alzheimer's, during which he devoted his life to caring for her. In typical fashion, he had planned to write a book about his experience and I am sure it would have been a unique and incredibly insightful lesson into coping and caring for a partner with Alzheimer's.

He had three children, Duncan, Louise and Sandy. Louise became the third generation of the Hendry family to follow a career in medicine, and is a Consultant Haematologist at Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford.

Bill retired in 2000, moving to the Isle of Lewis. Whilst this was a clean break from his life as a urologist, he did not rest on his laurels. He established a second highland cattle fold in Brue, helped create a new community centre in Barvas and organised the Westside Agricultural Show. Raising rare breed cattle became a passion.

It was a great privilege to have worked for this lovely and remarkable man and to have prepared this brief summary of his life. I am grateful for the contributions of Hugh Whitfield, Jonathan Ramsay, John Wickham and Louise Hendry.

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