Bruce Philp obituary

Other lives: Plastic surgeon specialising in burns and the first person to row for both Oxford and Cambridge in the Boat Race

In 1985, my brother, Bruce Philp, who has died aged 59, became the first person to row for both Oxford and Cambridge in the Boat Race. Part of the winning Oxford crew that year, he was featured in a front-page photo in the Guardian. When a journalist asked him who his influences were, he said “Philby, Burgess and Maclean”.

Bruce was a plastic surgeon, specialising in the treatment of burns. He read natural sciences then medicine at Downing College, Cambridge and continued his medical studies at Worcester College, Oxford, before undertaking his plastic surgery training at London hospitals including St Thomas’ and St George’s, Tooting.

In 2003 he became a consultant in burns and reconstructive surgery at Broomfield hospital in Chelmsford, Essex, one of the leading burns units in Europe, and was later appointed co-director of research, also running the laser service. He was passionate about teaching junior doctors and for many years was the director of training for plastic surgery for the London Deanery, helping the careers of about 70 trainees a year. He also served for five years on the executive committee of the British Burn Association.

Bruce took great pains to recognise and respect the humanity of his patients, colleagues and trainees. His work included life-saving surgery on victims of the Soho nail bombing and the Paddington train crash in 1999. Those he worked with remember his kindness, humour and expertise.

Bruce was born in west London, the eldest child of Margaret (nee Hutchinson), a history teacher, and Sandy Philp, a GP in Brentford. He went to Bryanston school in Dorset, where he rowed, discovered a passion for biology and met Lucy King, whom he later married in Las Vegas in 1992. He was devoted to their three children, Daisy, Polly and Dante.

A flamboyant dresser, an obsessive reader and music fan, Bruce was not a man to be confined by one discipline. He was described by the rowing coach and broadcaster Dan Topolski, in his 1989 book True Blue, as one of the best-read men in Oxford. Many friends remember Bruce taking them to their first gig. At a Morrissey concert more than a decade ago, I recall him tapping a skinhead on the shoulder to ask if a Union Jack being unfurled was meant “ironically”. At 6ft 5in, and wide with it, Bruce could risk that: the flag went back in a pocket.

He continued to be a committed sportsman after the end of his rowing career, running marathons and competing in triathlons and iron man challenges, and he maintained a deep, eclectic interest in the performing arts, literature and music.

He died of a suspected heart attack, after suffering for a decade with mental health issues undoubtedly contributed to by the extreme pressures of his often highly traumatic work.

Bruce is survived by Lucy, his children, his grandson Finneas, and by his sister Jane and me.

Al Philp

The GuardianTramp

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