Dr Ralph Stephens Vaughan - Consultant Anaesthetist

Citation for Ralph Stephens Vaughan

Ralph Vaughan was born in Morriston in the Swansea valley in 1940. His family roots remain in the area and a trip with Ralph to anywhere west of Swansea will often include a guided tour of strategic sites of his childhood. Secondary school education was at the Bishop Gore Grammar School in Swansea where he followed (though somewhat later) in the illustrious steps of Dylan Thomas. To an outsider it would seem that pupils of Swansea grammar schools either became doctors or rugby internationals. Ralph chose the former, though legend has it that his passion for the oval-ball game was such that he could have considered the alternate. However, unlike so many aspiring doctors from the Welsh valleys that chose to study at the hospital near Paddington station, Ralph was determined to be more adventurous, boldly travelled deep into London's hinterland to the Middlesex Hospital.

In addition to a desire to succeed academically as a medical student, he continued his passion for sport and many a tale is told of the exploits of Ralph Vaughan in the various rounds of the Hospitals Cup; such tales of sporting prowess exist alongside others more related to 'apres rugby' activity! Clearly despite his sporting (and associated) prowess, Ralph was no academic slouch as witnessed by his appointment as House Physician to the Professor! His undoubted talent to combine passion into both his work and his play was evident even then.

Following house officer appointments, Ralph embarked on a career in anaesthetics. One suspects that like most of us, time has dulled his recollection of the exact reason behind such a decision but early contact with some of the doyens of anaesthesia almost certainly encouraged him. His first posts were as SHO and later registrar in South East Essex. This led to his coming under the influence of Drs J. Alfred Lee and Dick Atkinson in Southend; not a bad early influence! After a couple of years of sampling the Essex life, Ralph returned to his beloved homeland and joined the department in Cardiff working under Bill Mushin, again not a bad influence for an up-and coming anaesthetist. He rose through the ranks of senior registrar and lecturer to be appointed consultant in Cardiff in 1973. Under the influence of the Cardiff heavyweights: the two Bills (Mushin and Mapleson), Mike Rosen and John Lunn, Ralph developed his clinical and medico-political skills. As a clinical anaesthetist, Ralph has always been able to combine his technical abilities with compassion for his patients and a trusting relationship with his surgical colleagues. If only all anaesthetists could be so endowed, we would have a much easier job convincing others of our merits.

From a young age, Ralph has had strong ties to the Association being Honorary Secretary to the then Junior Anaesthetists Group from 1969-72. With his appointment as a Consultant, he continued to have contact with the AAGBI becoming the guru behind the trade exhibition at the Association Scientific Meetings. Much of the success of our current relationships with industry is based on Ralph's hard work in making all exhibitors feel important and part of a family. Sadly, such important behind-the-scenes work seldom receives the recognition it deserves. Election to the Council of the Association allowed Ralph to bring his unique slant onto many important issues. Ralph has always held strong views and has not been afraid to air them. He is respected by all as a man of principle. His qualities were recognised by his colleagues on Council and he was elected to the office of Honorary Secretary from 1992-94. His value to the Association was further recognised by his subsequent appointment as Vice President.

Not content with his enthusiastic involvement with the Association, Ralph was elected to the Council of the Royal College where he rose to be Vice President in 1999. During his time on Council, he held several key roles including being Chairman of the Examinations Committee. Few people have been so successful in working in the two bodies for the unity of anaesthesia - and I suspect even fewer have served as Vice Presidents of both!

Much of Ralph's research revolved around Airway Management. He was a founder member of the Difficult Airway Society and also the first Chairman of this society

In addition to all this, Ralph has been a prolific writer and driving force behind so many trainees both in research and in education. In a world where too few people are prepared to question practice, it is always refreshing to see an article from Ralph that cuts right to the roots of clinical practice. There will be precious few anaesthetists in the world that will not have read some of Ralph's pearls of wisdom, and probably thanked him for his clear approach to sometimes complex topics. His delight in passing on knowledge is clear to all who have attended his amazingly successful airway seminar at the Association.

When he retired from clinical practice a short time ago, many of us thought it was too early and he still had so much to give to anaesthesia. His assertion that retirement would allow him to make inroads into his golf handicap was perhaps hindered by his at times errant swing - as in everything that Ralph does, he puts all his effort into his golf. Unlike his professional career, his golf shots sometimes lack direction! His recent return to a part-time temporary position has been a joy to everyone in the department - to his consultant colleagues, it is good to have a wise listening ear, and to the trainees, his sheer enthusiasm for teaching is undiminished. All he needs now before he re-retires is to get his golf swing sorted!

It is impossible to list all of Ralph Vaughan's achievements but the greatest cannot be seen in any curriculum vitae. It is the sincerity of his friendship and encouragement that he has given to everyone he encounters. Ralph Vaughan has done so much for anaesthesia locally, nationally and internationally. He richly deserves the DAS Macewen Medal for his contribution to the Difficult airway Society.


Michael Harmer