Pybus, Frederick Charles
Professor of Medicine
Professor Frederick Pybus was born in Stockton-on-Tees in 1883. He graduated from Newcastle College of Medicine in 1906 and joined the Gordon Hospital in London. In 1910, he became house surgeon at the Newcastle Royal Infirmary. During World War I (1914-18) he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps with the rank of major in what is now modern-day Iraq. At the end of hostilities, he returned to Newcastle to a surgical position at the Fleming Memorial Hospital for children. In 1942, he was appointed Professor of Surgery at King’s College Newcastle, then a Division of Durham University and, in 1948, was appointed advisor to the Northern Regional Board of the newly established NHS.
Frederick Pybus was a pioneering medical practitioner-researcher who contributed to knowledge on paediatric conditions, cancer, orthopaedics and the principles of organ transplantation. He had a strong fascination for the history of medicine, amassing a large collection of books, artefacts and manuscripts over four decades. His collection, held by the University of Newcastle Library, contains more than 2,000 books, many very rare, mainly from the 15th century onwards. It is a treasure trove containing a rich variety of items from Darwin’s 1842 essay on the origin of species, to texts by Avicenna the 11th-century Arabian polymath. It is considered one of the most valuable collections on medical history in the world.
Frederick never married but led a full and fascinating life dedicated to the service of others. He was experienced by some students as a ‘strict disciplinarian’, and invariably as ‘charming’ by his patients. In 1965, ten years before his death, he bequeathed his collection and personal papers to Newcastle University, occupying 90 linear metres of shelving in the special collections section of the library.
The Pybus bequest is an example of a particular type of philanthropy. Gifting prized cultural possessions is foundational to many of the world’s greatest cultural institutions like museums and art galleries that serve as magnets for philanthropy. Many gifts go to make a wonderful collective whole. In the North East, the Laing Gallery in Newcastle opened as an empty shell but now boasts a collection of fine art of international significance. The Great North Museum likewise has been blessed since its foundation as the Hancock Museum with thousands of individual gifts, each one adding to the precious collection of sources from which our appreciation of the world derives.