Trinity Community Mourns the Death of Peter Gatenby, Hon FTCD

Posted on: 26 August 2015

Peter Bronte Gatenby, MB 1946, MD 1949, FRCPI, FRCP Lond., Hon FRCP Ed., Hon FACP, Hon FTCD, Trinity’s first full-time professor of clinical medicine, passed away on 24th August, 2015, in St Vincent's Hospital.

Related to the famous Bronte sisters on his paternal grandmother’s side, Peter was born in Dublin in 1923. From a distinguished Trinity family – his father James Bronte Gatenby was professor of zoology and comparative anatomy at Trinity – Peter qualified in medicine at Trinity in 1946. With genuine interest in people, Peter said that he was inspired by his parents to study medicine. Peter remembered his father saying, “If you can’t do biology, you can always go on and do medicine, it is simpler.”

Following graduation Peter Gatenby worked as a house doctor in Baggot Street Hospital and a year later moved to the UK as a regional medical officer in Wimbledon and in a number of hospitals. While in the neurological unit of Middlesex Hospital he heard of a vacancy in Dr Stevens’ Hospital in Dublin and returned to Ireland in 1953. From then on to 1974, Peter Gatenby worked as a consulting physician in Stevens’ Hospital and a consultant general physician at both the Meath and the Rotunda Hospitals.

Peter was appointed as Trinity’s first full-time professor of clinical medicine in 1960 and worked to develop a clinical medicine professorial unit in the Meath Hospital.

Through his clinical work at the Rotunda, Dr Gatenby, together with consultant obstetrician Dr Eddie Little, published original work on pathogenesis, epidemiology and management of megaloblastic anaemia of pregnancy. 

Apart from the establishment of the teaching of clinical medicine in Ireland, Dr Gatenby made a significant contribution to the development of the Federated Voluntary Dublin Hospitals, which led to the grouping of the seven small Dublin hospitals under a central council – precursor to the modern Irish hospital system.

In 1974 Dr Gatenby became Medical Director for the United Nations, where he worked until his retirement in 1987. The UN job took him all over the world and he spent eight years based in New York and five in Rome. While based in New York, he was visiting professor of clinical medicine at New York University.

From 1975 to 1978 Dr Gatenby held the regius professor of physic (1637), the oldest chair of medicine in Ireland and it is among the oldest in Europe.  

Apart from research papers, Dr Gatenby also wrote “The School of Physic: Trinity College Dublin: a Retrospective View” (1994) and “History of the Meath Hospital” (1996).

In 2002, in recognition of Professor Gatenby's selfless commitment and contribution the School of Medicine established the Peter Gatenby Award. It is awarded annually to the student who contributed most to the welfare and academic and social development of the Faculty of Health Sciences.  

Peter Gatenby was predeceased by his wife Yvette, who died in 2006, and their daughter Odette. He is survived by his son Robin and daughter-in-law Kathleen Lyons who are both Trinity School of Medicine graduates.  

He will be sadly missed by the former students and colleagues and a wider Trinity community. A regular participant of Trinity events, Dr Gatenby was last in College during Trinity Week in April.  He will be fondly remembered for his contribution to the development of medicine in Trinity and Ireland and for his gentle personality, interest in people and for his dedication to patients and students alike.

The funeral service takes place on Monday, 31 August, at 11.30 at Christ Church with Mariners, Park Road, Dun Laoghaire, followed by at Mount Jerome Cemetery.