Sir Cecil Cyrus, St Vincent
Editor: Readers may remember an article in the Bulletin 12 years ago (July 2005), entitled “The Dr Cecil Cyrus Museum: public attitudes to tissue donation for display in St Vincent”. This was written by Cecil Cyrus at the request of the then Bulletin Editor. In it, he recounted the history of his museum in St Vincent (West Indies) and the support it had received from former patients on the island, many of whom had undergone surgery carried out by Dr Cyrus. In the vast majority of cases these people were happy that their lesions had been photographed and their pathological material preserved in the museum for others to see.
We made a trip to St Vincent in 2005 when we were living in Trinidad, based at the University of the West Indies (UWI). We were invited for a meal with Dr and Mrs Cyrus, after which we were shown the museum. Our expectations were more than met: the collection of 700 fascinating and medically important specimens, photographs and radiographs, collected over 40 years, was attractively and thoughtfully arranged in a purpose-built building adjacent to the island’s Botanic Gardens – the oldest in the western hemisphere.
The purpose of this letter is to draw colleagues’ attention to the fact that Dr Cyrus received a knighthood in the 2019 New Year Honours List. We sent him a letter of congratulations and in his reply on January 28th he said inter alia:
“Many thanks for your letter of 4 January 2019, congratulating me on my New Year Honours. Incidentally, I had celebrated my 90th birthday on 6 January, after the announcement about the knighthood had been made. So, it was a double celebration. Kathryn and I do remember your visit to us in January 2005. We wish you both continued health of body and peace of mind.’
It is good to be able to report that Cecil Cyrus has received this honour. He was born in humble circumstances in the countryside of St Vincent but managed in 1950 to gain admission to Queen’s University in Belfast. On the completion of his medical and surgical training he chose to return to St Vincent rather than embark on a successful career in the UK. He spent 13 years as the lone surgical specialist at the Colonial Hospital, St Vincent, and then 30 years at his own private Botanic Hospital. Many people were living with conditions that were treatable and he devoted himself to working with these and others.
Sir Cecil’s contributions to clinical medicine in St Vincent over nearly 40 years cannot be doubted. He also occupies an important – and probably unique – place in the annals of pathology, not least because of his ingenuity in setting up his museum (his inventiveness in procuring and using containers for specimens, for example) and the way in which he promoted among his compatriots a balanced approach in the display, for educational purposes, of pathological material. Some indication of his surgical achievements and his understanding of the importance of pathology can be garnered by referring to Cecil Cyrus’ magnum opus, A Clinical and Pathological Atlas: The Records of a Surgeon in St Vincent, The West Indies, which received an excellent review in the Bulletin of the Royal College of Pathologists and copies of which are to be found in its library.
We were saddened to read in the letter from Cecil and Kathryn Cyrus, cited above that the museum is still there, but is not appreciated by our public. One hopes that this situation will change. Be that as it may, Cecil Cyrus’ collection has for many years served as a unique source of medical education to Vincentians and others and it is well worth a visit.
There remains much sensitivity in the UK about human (and animal) tissues and relatively few museums still exist that provide opportunities for such material to be openly exhibited. The Royal College of Pathologists has done sterling work in recent years, especially among young people, in its bid to educate the public about the role and importance of pathology and the relevance of medical specimens. Nevertheless, we can still learn a lot from the enlightened approach of Sir Cecil Cyrus, surgeon extraordinaire of St Vincent.
Professor John E Cooper and Mrs Margaret E Cooper
Forensic and Comparative Pathology Services