Dr. Eric Walter Grogono died on the 23rd December, 1966. He was 87. He was born in Stratford in 1879 when there were still fields between his home and the London Hospital. His father, some years earlier, had ridden over them almost daily from the general practice to which he was apprenticed in order to attend classes at the London as a "visiting pupil"; on one occasion he had shot a brace of snipe on his way to a ward round.
Grogono himself and both his brothers were trained at the London, all three following their father's example and winning the Out-Patient Dresser's Prize. By this time there were only full-time students. Clubs and societies were established and there was already a Students' Union Building. Grogono played soccer for the hospital in a team which won the Inter-Hospitals Cup, and about the same period the hospital was equally successful in several other major sports. The London in fact was pretty much in the public eye: it was very large; it served the most crowded, boisterous, exciting and poverty-stricken area of London; it enjoyed considerable notice from the Royal Family; and above all it had had for some time among its medical staff, men with national and international reputations.
Grogono qualified in 1902, the year after Queen Victoria died and Sir Frederick Treves had drawn still more attention to the London by opening King Edward's appendix abscess on what should have been Coronation Day. Grogono became house-surgeon to Jonathan Hutchinson Junior and was at the London in this capacity when King Edward showed his gratitude by opening the new Out-patient building. The same year Grogono's father died and he himself took over the practice in Stratford.
When he retired in 1955 he had spent 50 years in practice except for a short period as a ship's surgeon and later service with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Mesopotamia in the First World War. At the start his practice presented a horrifying range of acute disease and many of his patients were extremely poor. There was not a great deal that medicine could do for either misfortune, but up to 300 deliveries a year represented both a major contribution and very hard work. By the time he retired there had been unbelievable advances in medical treatment – and East London was enjoying the relative affluence of the post-war years.
In the interim there had been not only a revolution in medical knowledge and practice, but Lloyd George's Insurance Act of 1911 (bringing the panel into existence), the Second World War and the Blitz (during which he never left his practice for more than a day or two, and in which his own home was demolished), and the National Health Service had been established. Over the same period young men from the London, recently qualified, had spent successive years as assistants in the practice. For some two years after the War the evening surgeries were taken by either the Assistant Director or the Senior Lecturer of the Medical Unit at the London. Some families found it difficult to have confidence in these "evening" doctors who asked so many questions and made such rigorous examinations. Others chose to come in the evenings, despite the extra expense that an examination added to the fees for women and children: "Here's two shillings, Docctor: keep the change, you need it more than we do.
Grogono combined an insatiable desire to know how things worked with great practical ability. He lived at a wonderful time for a person of such interests. A pioneer motorist, he took car after car to pieces in a never ending search for improvement. He was a pioneer, too, of motor boat racing. He found great pleasure in his work as the Honorary Anaesthetist to St. Mary's Hospital, Plaistow, but was not so pleased to find that increasing developments in medicine required more and more practical interference in the course of a disease to be done in hospital. None the less they fascinated him and he followed them to the limits set by his knowledge of basic medical science. Biochemistry had featured but little in his education and developments based on this subject had less appeal for him. Hospital summaries replete with the results of many biochemical tests he found irritating and, tidy practical man that he was, he folded them neatly into spills and used them to light his cigarettes.
His patients had great confidence in him, perhaps because he told them what was wrong with them and what to do about it. He indulged but little in explanations, but gave the name of the disease. He was kind, he was realistic, and he was authoritarian. He kept his doubts to himself. Personal medicine – by virtue of the degree to which a strong personality was used as a therapeutic weapon.
Grogono saw two of his sons and four grandsons pass through the London – four generations of Grogonos have spanned the past century of its history – and the London shares with his wife and family their feelings of pride as well a sorrow at the end of a long, happy and useful life.
He saw enormous numbers of patients and scarcely ever seemed tired. He didn't hurry with his patients but when the time came to go, he went fast, down the stairs and down the front steps with a hop, always turning to leave a smile in which courtesy was mixed with a boyish grin. His enthusiasm for living must have been infectious for it seemed to strike a spark in many whose circumstances contained precious little cause for happiness or even hope – and whose physical capacity for enjoying life contrasted sadly with his own. He was always fit, and always devoted to some sport. Soccer gave way to figure skating, then road cycling, then golf, then sailing, and finally bowls.
Successful in all these it was sailing in which Grogono had the most influence. He was 45 when he took it up – and taught himself. In the process he taught a family which includes a son who reached Olympic standard. Teams consisting of wholly or mainly of his descendents, have won, at one time or another, several of the most coveted team racing trophies. Generations of Londoners remember with pleasure Grogono's 15 ton ketch Sonia, not least as the centre piece of the Sailing Club's annual regatta at Burnham – and for many years he was president of the Aldeburgh Yacht Club.
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Mar 6, 2010