Brits in Quest of Mangalorean Roots

(A heart-warming story about a world-class medical eminence sired by a Mangalorean doctor who went to  England for good.)

The evil that men do lives after them
The good is oft interred with their bones.
 - William Shakespeare, English dramatist (1564-1616) in Julius Caesar
That seems to be the hurt sentiment of William E Moody in his scholastic dissertation  (April 2003) titled “Professor Alphonsus Ligouri (Pon) D’Abreu: The Unsung Hero of Cardiothoracic Surgery”, supervised by Robert Arnott, Director, Centre for the History of Medicine, University of Birmingham. This is reflected in the opening lines of Moody: “ It is surprising then that even after thirty years following the death of Professor Alphonsus Ligouri D’Abreu there has been no direct attempt to review the practice of such a distinguished thoracic and cardiac surgeon. This is despite the fact that many considered him to be the greatest Birmingham surgeon of his time….British surgery regarded him as an acknowledged leader of international repute and one of Birmingham’s most renowned surgeons”.

Dr John Francis De Abreu (Father) and Dr Alphonsus Pon (son)

Pon has a Magalorean connection as he was sired by Dr. John Francis D’Abreu who left Mangalore for higher medical studies in England in 1880s – never to return. The earliest known member of his family, Salvador (c1770-1832) was a timber merchant and founder of Rosario Cathedral. John was the youngest son of Antony (1815-69) who, in turn, was the youngest son of Salvador. John married Teresa Noonan of Irish descend, perhaps the first Mangalorean to marry into a different nationality. The couple had seven children – five girls followed by two boys. Both boys, Francis Arthur and Alphonsus (born on August 5, 1906), became eminent doctors, the former practicing at Harley Street, London. Francis is noted among Mangalorean Catholic community for having married, in 1945, Margaret Anne Bowes Lyon, the first cousin of then Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Mother) – after her conversion to Catholicism.
Not much would have been known about the more eminent doctor-professor Pon in Mangalore had not his daughter visited the city recently in search of her roots. With the documentation she brought along, specially Moody’s thesis, it is possible to assess the world-class eminence of Pon in the field of cardiothoracic surgery. For a brief background on Pon, one can rely on the obituary published in The Times, London on his death:

“Professor A. L. D’Abreu
AGWW writes:
Professor Alpphonso Liguori D’Abreu, CBE, the distinguished thoracic and cardiac surgeon died on April 19 (1976) at the age of 69.

As an undergraduate and while training for his future career as a surgeon, his outstanding ability and his great personal qualities were already obvious. During the 1939-45 War he served with distinction in the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) and on leaving the Army he was acting Professor of Surgery at the University of Wales for a year before being appointed to the consultant staff of the Teaching Hospital in Birmingham where he had been an undergraduate (passed with Gold Medal). Very soon he was one of the leading thoracic surgeons in the world and his pioneer work in the surgery of congenital and rheumatic heart disease and specially in open heart surgery was an enormously valuable contribution. His Practice of Thoracic Surgery, now in its fourth edition, has been the standard work for over a quarter of a century.

Daughters and grandchildren of Dr Pon

He was Professor of Cardiac Surgery and Dean of the Faculty of Medicine (1959-63) and Professor of Surgery (1963-71) in the University of Birmingham; Hunterian Professor; Member of the Court of Examiners and of the Council, and vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England; President of the Thoracic Society (1968-69); Visiting Professor of Surgery at Harvard (1967); a Deputy Lieutenant for Warwickshire; honorary Colonel of the Medical Services of the 42nd Division (TA) and Vice President of the Warwickshire County Cricket Club. He was appointed OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1944 and advanced to CBE (Commander) in 1968.

He married in 1935 Elizabeth Throckmorton (a descendent from the Catholic family remembered for its involvement in the gunpowder plot against the House of Parliament) who died in 1970. They had three daughters.

Veronica and her siter with thier mother

For thirty years Pon D’Abreu was one of the most outstanding and best loved figures in the medical profession. Blessed with high intelligence, enormous energy and great manual dexterity as well as a most handsome and distinguished appearance, his success and great achievements were not surprising but despite them he remained modest and unassuming and invariably kind, generous, courteous and charming to everyone whatever their station. No man had more friends and admirers.”
The Times also reported the memorial service held for Pon on May 7 and gave a long list of eminent men and women from various walks of life, many of them representing dozens of institutions and associations across England.
Moody has appended a long list of references to his thesis, including books and articles written by Pon and written on him in professional journals. There are some sound-bites (written) that reflect on the character of Pon. “He was clearly very popular with all those around him. He would spend time to chat with everyone: the sisters and nurses, the porters, the ward maids, the cleaners, the traffic controllers”. “He always said nicest things about other people – even horrible people! I think his greatest contribution was his example of showing appreciation of the work of others”. “In between seeing patients he would dictate letters to his secretary and listen to the commentary (on test cricket) at the same time so that care had to be taken not to get left-arm bowlers mixed up with left side of the chest”.

Relatives of Dr John Francis at a get together arranged for visiting Veronica at the Mangalore club

To conclude with the root-seeking visitors from London, Pon’s daughter Veronica Barran D’Abreu, a lawyer/judge, and her architect husband, Marius Barran, overwhelmed by the reception they got, regretted that they allotted only three days for Mangalore and are already planning to return with other members of their family. The highlight of their stay in Mangalore was a reception at the Mangalore Club, sponsored by Dr. John Salvador Fernandes, where about a hundred descendents of John were identified and invited by Dr. Michael Lobo who, as the genealogist of Mangalore Catholics, had helped the visitors to find their roots and acted as their local escort and guide.

Author John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is Editor of his website (Interactive Cerebral Challenger)

By John B. Monteiro - Mangalore
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Comment on this article

  • Brits in Quest of Mangalorean Roots, CP

    Thu, Jul 12 2012

    Yes Aunt Alice Dr Lawrence Farnandes wife (Affectionately known as Dr Lorsu Fernand)is from the same Abreo family


    Tue, Jan 06 2009

    There was another Dr. Abreu (brother-in-law of late Dr. Lawrence Fernandes a founding colleague of Fr. Augustus Muller at Fr. Muller's) who also migrated to Europe in the early 1900's. Could Dr. Michael Lobo and Mr. John Monteiro throw light on this? Or are they one and the same?

  • Nigel, Nalasopara East

    Thu, Jan 01 2009


  • Rupert Franks,

    Tue, Dec 30 2008

    Vow what a great story, and qudoes to Mr.Monteiro for bringing out this article. I as an Abreo descendent, I am very proud and grateful for this article.

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