Prof Patrick G. Collins

 

In the late 1940s after the second World War, there was an exodus of aspiring young doctors from Irish universities to the UK and the US to learn new techniques in surgery and medicine which had lain dormant during the war. Thus a renaissance, particularly in surgery, occurred when these highly trained young exiles returned to consultant posts in Irish hospitals.

Paddy Collins was one of that generation and his recent death after a prolonged and painful illness has caused much sadness among his family, his colleagues and especially his former patients.

Graduating from UCC in 1947 with a first-class honours degree, Patrick Gerard Collins went to Southend and then to Derby Royal Infirmary, where, incidentally, he was a co-worker with my late wife who introduced him to me on his return to Dublin. He became a senior registrar at Sheffield Royal to Mr James Lytle (from Derry) who was later to become his great friend and mentor and extern examiner at RCSI.

Finally he spent a year at the Lahey Clinic in Boston and during his stint there Sir Anthony Eden had his injured bile duct repaired by the renowned Dr R. Catell. On return to Ireland, he was appointed a consultant to the Charitable Infirmary in Jervis Street.

He had a brilliant student career with continuous first-class honours and obtained the prestigious Hutchinson Stewart Scholarship in physiology. While at university he got a rugby inter-pro cap for Munster. Patrick Collins was a fellow of English, Irish and American colleges of surgeons and got an M.Ch degree from UCC.

During his surgical career he was elected to all the traditional posts in important societies which included membership of the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, a governor and founder member of the Irish Chapter of the American College, the Warren Cole Society in Chicago, President of the Royal Academy of medicine in Ireland and the Pancreatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He achieved his ambition by becoming associate and then Clinical Professor of Surgery at RCSI, a post he held in conjunction with Bill MacGowan and later David Bouchier Hayes until his retirement from Beaumont Hospital in 1989.

Paddy Collins was a loveable character and one of the last great general surgeons of our generation who dedicated his surgical career to establishing a department of surgery at the "Jerr", as the hospital was amicably known then. He also was part of the group that initiated the Irish Postgraduate Surgical Training Scheme.

He was a big man in the true sense and, like many surgeons, could be turbulent and declamatory at times, but it was his kindness and sincere generosity to his patients, especially the underprivileged, that endeared him to many and occupied a major interest in his life which he lived to the full.

His special interest was surgery of the biliary tract, liver and pancreas and he set seminal standards of technique for repair of injuries to the bile ducts, an operation that separates men from boys! He had a magnetic attraction for students and his Sunday morning hospital rounds for post-graduates set many on the way to success.

In many ways, he had a sad family life. His father Archie, died tragically at a young age, which was followed by the premature death of his sister, Emer Reihill, and his dear wife, Pauline. His other sister, Fionn Harrington, and his brother, Oscar, also died young. He subsequently married Catherine McGovern, who was theatre sister at the hospital, and they had a very happy liaison.

He always maintained that life was not worth living if one did not have a true sense of humour and he portrayed his very individualistic philosophy with many stories and raunchy anecdotes from his farming background near Cobh where both his father and mother, Mary Anne, were teachers. I once heard him tell a group of students that "a bald head gives you a dignified look, a big tummy a prosperous look and piles a busy and preoccupied look".

"I've got the first two," he said, "but I haven't got piles yet." The ubiquitous cigar and Mercedes sumbolised him and over the years he contributed generously to the Cuban economy. I remember seeing him buy a box of Havanas at Khartoum airport, only to find out later, that they disintegrated into dust. He spent many pleasant days on the Corrib and in the Fitzwilliam Club, where Dermot Donelan and Robert Menzies were, with yours truly, an intimate group.

All the medical fraternity, nurses, patients and especially Catherine, will be very saddened by his untimely death as he possessed a great inner kindness which was chemiotactic and palpable to those who knew him. My sympathy goes to Catherine, brother Seamus, aunt Kitty and many nieces and nephews. Finally, he would have wished me to quote his favourite stanza from Shelley's Ode to the Skylark.

"We look before and after

We pine for what is not,

Our sincerest laughter with

some pain is fraught,

Our sweetest songs are

those that tell of

saddest thought."

With affection and esteem, goodbye, dear friend.

H.J.B.