Dr Howard Eaton Freeman Davies (1924- 2012)

Dr Howard Eaton Freeman Davies (known affectionately to his friends and colleagues at Newport as HEF) died on 29th June 2012 after a brief illness having been frail for some months as a result of worsening cardiac failure.

Howard was born on 5th November 1924 in Bargoed in the Welsh valleys, the son of a local history master, later to be headmaster of Pencoed Senior School. Howard once proclaimed himself to be a half-caste as his father was Welsh and his mother English. He never forgot or abandoned his Welsh values. He was educated at Bridgend Grammar School and was offered a place to read medicine at Caius College, Cambridge but a wartime schoolmaster’s salary did not run to the fees so he entered University College Cardiff at the age of 17 and was the fifth student in the history of the department to gain a first class honours in physiology. In his final undergraduate year he had his name on several papers. Howard then won an exhibition scholarship to Guys Hospital Medical School in London and graduated MB in 1948 with the prize for pathology.  There are many stories which make one think he had an adventurous spirit as a student indulging in sports such as climbing, abseiling, tennis, extensive travel and a few notorious student pranks.

After national service he held various junior posts at Guys where a referee commented on his outstanding intellect, the Hammersmith (working for Sheila Sherlock) and in 1952 at the age of 28 he gained his MD. A Medical Research Society fellowship then took him to Manchester where he completed his most memorable work as part of a pioneering team investigating kidney function. With Oliver Wrong he published the paper `The excretion of acid in renal disease’, Wrong.O and Davies, HEF, Quarterly Journal of Medicine 1959, 28: 259-313 which has been cited more than 750 times. The paper established the first test for measuring acid in renal disease and is still not superseded. They had discovered the chemistry and transmission patterns for renal tubular acidosis and other of the renal tubular disorders such as Fanconi’s syndrome.

His hiraeth for Wales then overcame him and he returned to Cardiff to work first at the pneumoconiosis unit and then a 3 year lectureship in the Medical Unit at the Welsh National School of Medicine followed by thirteen years as a lecturer and subsequently senior lecturer in physiology where he continued his research into kidney disease. An invitation to give a key paper at an international Nephrology Conference in the USA in 1966 led to six months work at the Massachusetts General Hospital on membrane transport using toads. HOWARD then visited Berlin for a while where electron microscopy was being developed.

In 1972, he decided to return to clinical medicine and, having been invited to join the professorial department of paediatrics, he decided that the real need was for doctors to deal with the problems of an ageing population. He prepared for this by training with Professor Ferguson Anderson in Glasgow and at John Hopkins in Baltimore. In 1974, he was appointed as a consultant geriatrician in Newport, Gwent working at St Woolos Hospital, the old workhouse. 

Howard was sensitively devoted to his patients and fought endlessly for better conditions and a better environment. His perseverance was rewarded with the opening in 1983 of the new Springfield Unit that was purpose built and fitted out with all the best facilities for older people.  Following his retirement, he was able to work in this new unit for several more years teaching and supporting the junior doctors and all the members of the multidisciplinary teams he had developed.  He had more time for research as he became a clinical advisor to the Ageing Research Unit in Newport where he published with Dr Elwyn Hughes and Professor Eleri Jones several studies on the elderly. During his lifetime he had his name on some 80 papers.

He finally retired in 1995 and soon after moved to Llanfarian near Aberystwyth where he spent many years in a beautiful house with a large and interesting garden. Howard loved his home most of all, making it a haven for many. He had had a life-long love from early childhood of all aspects of Welsh history and culture and was generous in his hospitality to Celtic scholars (most of them Oxbridge, Welsh and Irish professors) of varying degrees of eccentricity. He had a great interest in nature and animals and loved his garden and his cats and dogs. He was one of the most intellectually brilliant people I have ever known. He was incredibly well read in literature, music and art and sketched endlessly. He had an enormous interest in everything and a great love of people from all walks of life and would talk endlessly to them about their lives and experiences.

He was a devoted father, a loving and supportive husband, a source of constant information and wisdom, a wonderful colleague and friend for life, but most of all he had such a wicked and clever sense of humour. 

He is survived by his wife, Morfydd Owen, a specialist in Medieval Welsh law and medicine, the latter interest they shared, his daughters. Luned, a historian and archivist and Brid, a specialist in Welsh folksong; and by Melanie, his daughter by his first wife, now a consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at UCH, London.