Mike Lowry was never going to go unnoticed in this world. Although he did not seek attention his ebullient nature and impish humour were in his DNA, and his life was destined to enhance many others.
Mike went to St Philip's Grammar School in Birmingham where he was probably a challenging pupil. He once truanted from school to go fishing and was pictured on the front page of the Birmingham Mail, with the caption, “School boy enjoying his half-term break”, which somewhat blew his cover. Much later and just a few months before his ‘A’ levels, his siblings report he was expelled from school for questioning the virgin birth and giving lectures to fellow students on birth control and communism. However he actually did very much better studying by himself at the reference library, and his results gave him entry to medical school in Birmingham, graduating in 1962.
Mike had junior doctor jobs in Eire, Blackpool, Birmingham and Poole, and then research at Case Western Reserve Hospital Cleveland into mother-infant bonding. He married his teenage sweetheart Erna in 1966 and they had two children Sadie and Nick. In 1973 the family moved to Jamaica where he ultimately became Professor of Child Health at the University of the West Indies in Kingston. He felt very fulfilled there, both by his work, fishing and the Caribbean lifestyle.
Upon returning to the UK Mike accepted a consultant’s post in Sunderland in 1981. By 1991 when I was appointed, Mike had developed sub specialty expertise in diabetes, endocrinology, cystic fibrosis and asthma. Sunderland is 12 miles away from the regional centre in Newcastle with whom we had strong links, but Mike had established an ethos of self-sufficiency, and most paediatric problems were managed in house.
Teaching had always been important to Mike, and he realised that friendliness and good training would attract good calibre junior doctors. Having made this a priority for the department he made them feel welcome and every six months organised a meal at a nearby Cantonese restaurant in their first month. Christmas parties held in his house were legendary. He organised a regular induction program in February and August, producing a booklet on how to deal with common paediatric problems. To provide timely care, one of his many aphorisms was “don’t let results come to you, chase them up”.
Mike embraced technology with enthusiasm and owned a series of Psion personal organisers. He was an innovator and introduced paediatric secretaries to word processing technology by buying them each an Amstrad desktop and a dot matrix printer with departmental funds garnered from medical reports.
In a Christmas letter in 1998 Mike wrote “The North East has been good to and for us. There is a wonderful ‘family’ of paediatricians across the region in the ethos of Sir James Spence and we all feel part of it. Our unit in Sunderland has grown and we do better work all the time. We started with two consultants who never spoke to each other and now have seven who hardly have time to. Training (for junior doctors) is clearly better and I take pride in that”. With self-deprecating reflection Mike went on to admit that over the years he had not been well known for his tact and diplomacy in the face of increasing NHS bureaucracy and then write “I fear there will not be many more of my kind coming through; master of nothing but able to cope across the board”.
By 1999 Erna, who had developed early onset Alzheimer’s in her mid 50s, was found to have cancer. She was cared for by Mike with great tenderness until she died at home just after the millennium. Mike retired in 2003 and received many heartfelt messages from his patients, some of whom he had cared for from childhood to adulthood. He had laid the firm foundations of the directorate built on the rocks of a warm welcome, teaching and training, and a philosophy of all of our efforts being focussed on the child. The retirement present which touched him most was the naming of the seminar room in his honour.
In retirement Mike moved away from Sunderland to live in Berwick. He felt very fortunate to meet and ultimately to marry Deniz Gurtin. They divided their time between her place in London where she worked as a consultant paediatrician until 2019, their house in Bodrum in Turkey, and the cottage on the Tweed. He shared almost 20 years with Deniz and enjoyed her love and their mutual interests of travel and classical music.
Mike was a good man who held strong socialist principles, loved his family dearly, and was an excellent paediatrician who cared deeply for his patients and their families. He will be remembered with great fondness and gratitude by many people. The family intend to scatter Michael’s ashes on the Tweed from the Union Bridge close to his retirement cottage so that he can be carried out to sea and be with that huge salmon that he yearned to catch.