Reginald Carpenter: An era in Ja's development


Reginald Carpenter: An era in Ja's development


Friday, June 26, 2020

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Time will be unkind to those who have no memory, so I share this happening that passed without a ripple.

Reginald Carpenter's death on May 28, 2020 was a signal to Jamaica's surgeons that an era had passed. He exited the door recently left ajar by two stalwarts in Jamaican postgraduate surgical education, Peter Raymond Fletcher and Barrie Hanchard.

Carpenter graduated from Cambridge University in 1951 and held fellowships from both English and Edinburgh Colleges of Surgeons. He was the younger sibling of Gloria Cumper, family law pioneer and The University of the West Indies (UWI), previously University College, resident tutor (1948), having been the first black woman to study law at Cambridge University (1945).

Carpenter commenced his Jamaican medical service as senior registrar in surgery in 1961 at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI). His special interest in children was recognised by the late Sir Harry Annamunthodo, who was the first West Indian to be appointed to a chair in the Faculty of Medicine (1961). Sir Harry put Carpenter in charge of Ward 14, a newly opened specialist paediatric surgery ward on January 1, 1962. His appointment preceded the opening of Bustamante Hospital for Children (BHC) in 1963. At this time general surgeons at Kingston Public Hospital, who cared of adults, were expected to undertake children's surgery at BHC. Auspiciously under the influence of Carpenter and others this practice waned as all came to appreciate that children were best managed by surgeons specially trained in childcare.

Carpenter ascended the academic ladder from lecturer in surgery in 1965 to succeed Annamunthodo as department head in October 1978 and the chair in clinical surgery in April 1980. This ascent was mirrored by his deepening involvement in the day-to-day surgical care of a wide cross section of Jamaica's children.

In addition to his UHWI responsibilities Carpenter provided clinical and emergency coverage at BHC from 1965-1974. In April 1967, on the recommendation of Dr Leila Wynter, senior paediatrician, Carpenter was appointed honorary consultant at the BHC. He served as sole surgeon, from June 1969 to February 1970, at that institution when Resident Surgeon Dr Earl Wright migrated and later was instrumental in arranging a fellowship to Pittsburgh for William Dennis, the first Jamaican to be appointed chief of surgery at BHC.

Postgraduate training in surgery commenced at The UWI in 1972 and Carpenter became coordinator of all surgical training programmes in 1974 and subsequently chairman from 1978-1989. He believed that surgeons succeeding him should be better trained than he was and, along with professors Errol Walrond, Alan Butler and Peter Fletcher, blazed the trail for the international recognition of the Doctor of Medicine in Surgery degree. This led ultimately to The UWI campuses taking over responsibility from the United Kingdom for the training of Caribbean surgeons. The UWI trained surgeons in all specialties resulting in them now occupying most senior surgery posts in Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean. Carpenter stated that service to the Department of Surgery posed peculiar challenges, particularly during the tempestuous 1970s, when much of the academic staff either resigned or migrated to greener pastures. He would state wryly that he and a few others were “left to turn the lights out in the Department of Surgery”, but refused.

His productive engagement with The UWI extended beyond his retirement in 1989 and his appointment as professor emeritus in 1991.

Carpenter particularly cherished fruitful outcomes of mentorship, including The UWI's approval of a specialist degree in his own specialty, the Doctor of Medicine in Paediatric Surgery degree — DM (Paed Surg) — in 1998. He served on its first panel of examiners in December 2001. Carpenter witnessed The UWI's graduates in paediatric surgery head specialist units in Jamaica, Barbados, and Guyana.

Carpenter was also a source of wisdom and compassionate emotional support to all levels of staff in the Department of Surgery, Radiology, Anaesthesia, and Intensive Care up to and beyond his 90th birthday on January 25, 2020.

May his soul rest in peace.

Newton D Duncan is professor of paediatric surgery at The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

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