Eminent urologist and pioneer in kidney treatments

Born: January 7, 1943;

Died: August 23, 2018

BEVERLEY ‘Bev’ John Abel, who has died aged 75, was an eminent urologist and one of Glasgow’s earliest pioneers of percutaneous lithotripsy, a treatment which helped transform care for patients suffering from kidney stones.

One of the finest medical minds of his generation, his influential papers on ailments of kidney and bladder coupled with his reputation as a highly skilled surgeon saw him advance the case for the adoption of the lithotriptor machine, an appliance which uses shock waves to disrupt kidney stones.

At the height of his career, as consultant urological surgeon at Glasgow’s Victoria Infirmary, he and his long-term colleague and friend Archie Hutchison became pioneering advocates of percutaneous lithotripsy under x-ray control, relieving acute kidney pain experienced by countless sufferers.

Dubbed affectionately by peers as ‘Starsky and Hutch’, the pair led a urology unit regarded as exemplary throughout the UK, with Bev Abel’s work in championing further breakthrough treatments using fine scopes and instruments leading to his appointment as honorary lecturer at Glasgow University.

His expertise was also the catalyst for an entry in Who’s Who, a far cry from his modest upbringing as the son of a Nottinghamshire butcher who was forced to remain in the country during wartime in case his German lineage would see him shot for desertion.

Despite achieving prominence during a prodigious career, he exhibited a humility which was a legacy of his formative years. Born to Alfred and Winifred Abel in 1943, he and younger sister Wendy spent their earliest days living above premises of the family butcher shop, as Alfred laid down future foundations. At the age of two, and as a result of the poor wartime diet, Bev developed Ricketts and had to wear leg splints for some time. Adept at basketball thanks to his height, it was clear that he was exceptional academically and his thirst for knowledge, which endured throughout his life and was applied as much to his many interests from still life painting to renovations, golf and game shooting, began to take root and grow.

Passing the 11 Plus exam, he was awarded a place at a new grammar school called Carlton-le-Willows close to the River Trent, obtaining grades which enabled him to apply to read medicine at Liverpool University. At the interview he was asked if anyone in his family was of medical bent, to which he quipped, ‘my father is a butcher’. The interviewer promptly asked which other historical figure was a butcher’s son. Mr Abel's lightning response of Cardinal Wolsey secured him his place. A lifetime’s dedication to medicine had begun.

His self-deprecating comparison between tradesmen, butchery and the intricacy of urinary tract surgery was a theme he returned to comedically at other stages of his life and whilst enjoying his many and varied pastimes. During one fishing expedition on the Black Loch, a new member of the local angling club, which Mr Abel served as a president, misheard him describe his medical calling as a ‘neurologist’, proceeding to question further.

“No, I’m a plumber - a urologist,” he retorted, with the mischievous glint in the eye and raised eyebrow which will remain memorable to all who knew him. “Neurologists are the brainy guys.”

After graduating from Liverpool University, Mr Abel undertook his surgical training in Liverpool, moving quickly from junior to senior houseman, then registrar. By this time he had met a senior general nurse from Wales called Dwynwen ‘Wendy’ Thomas, his first wife and mother of their three children, Julia, Clare and Simon, who would become subjects of his wise counsel and love throughout the remainder of his life. The pair, who were married happily for 41 years until Wendy’s early death from cancer in 2007, aged 64, were married in December 1966 in Mold in Wales, Wendy’s hometown, and honeymooned in Grantown-on-Spey; a place which would retain a special place in Mr Abel’s heart. Throughout his career, which shifted from Liverpool to Glasgow and a role, initially, as senior registrar at Victoria Infirmary, he returned regularly to indulge one of the biggest other passions of his life, salmon fishing. Such was his devotion to the Spey and the outdoors, fellow members of his angling syndicate once reflected that, even if it could be proved the river no longer contained any of the king of fish, Mr Abel would wade in waist-deep and cast regardless.

In Grantown-on-Spey, Bev and Wendy met many long-standing friends and owned, rented and renovated property; another project attended to with Mr Abel’s customary attention and surgical precision. Children Julia, Clare and Simon, his sons-in-law David and Kenny and his eight grandchildren shared his love of the highland town, visiting often, as did Mr Abel and second wife, Sandra McGeachie, a nursing sister he met during his notable years as a urologist at ‘the Vic’ and in private practice. The pair were married in Glasgow in June 2011, surrounded by family, and shared a common interest in travel, food, their home on Mulberry Road and spending time with friends in the city, many of whom had known Mr Abel either professionally or through his encyclopaedic roster of interests.

Ferociously knowledgeable, he was also funny, unapologetically human, loving and fun, hence his loss has been felt deeply by many, not only his immediate family or within his field of expertise.

He is survived by his wife Sandra, sister Wendy, children Julia, Clare and Simon and his eight grandchildren, Zoe, Freya, Niamh, Archie, Lachlan, Angus, Darroch and Lucy.