Distinguished old boy of Penrith Grammar School

Date: Saturday 10th August 2002

ONE of the most distinguished old boys of Penrith’s Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Dr. Patrick John Ruthven Phizackerley, has died in Oxford, aged 75.

He was one of two brothers who are remembered by older people in the town for their scholastic prowess in the 1940s. Both Patrick and his brother, Gerald, attended the grammar school, were head boys and won scholarships to University College, Oxford.

They were the sons of Mr. and Mrs. J. D. (Jack) Phizackerley, Castle Drive, Penrith. He was a railway goods agent, having followed in the career footsteps of his father, who was stationmaster at Penrith around 100 years ago.

In 1957, the Herald recorded that the Board of Faculty of Medicine at Oxford had appointed P. J. R. Phizackerley, BSc, BM, MA, to the Betty Brookes Research Fellowship at the Radcliffe Infirmary for three years. He was also elected a Fellow of the University College.

He was to become “an ingenious clinical biochemist whose work saved the lives of many babies” the words used in an obituary in The Times.

Prior to that, however, while on National Service in the 1950s, he worked on the development of an early form of “space suit”, designed to protect RAF aircrew against sudden severe cold, following cabin failure at high altitude.

This had been held to be impossible but, with great ingenuity and insight, Pat Phizackerley showed that “dynamic insulation” could be made to work. He took part in the experiments himself at minus 45 degrees C, including leaving his hands uncovered and calmly observing that the partial loss of feeling persisted for several weeks afterwards.

In the 1960s he was appointed a university lecturer in clinical biochemistry at Balliol College, Oxford. Many of his pupils are now themselves highly distinguished and one of them made a substantial anonymous donation to the college to establish a scholarship in the name of Dr. Phizackerley.

He has been described as “one of the great Balliol tutors of the past 50 years”.

Respiratory distress syndrome, a major cause of death in premature infants, was one of the areas of biochemistry he worked in. It is still a major problem, but treatment is now possible, thanks in part to Pat Phizackerley’s work.

Thousands of babies have been saved by reducing the risk of respiratory distress during pregnancy.

The former Penrith man is said to have “remained modest about his abilities and achievements”.

He married Mary Daphne Kilner in 1951. She died in 2000, but their son and four daughters survive him. Pat Phizackerley’s brother, Gerald, became Archdeacon of Chesterfield.