The University of Oxford was honoured to hold the first Chair to be established by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). It was a memorial to the BHF's first president, Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis and sparked the beginnings of a new department within the University.
At the inauguration of the chair on 13 October 1973, the Queen Mother unveiled a bust of the Field Marshal, which currently resides on Level 6 of the West Wing, JR. It was a quite unprecedented happening for the University, since it combined academia, show business in the form of Morecambe and Wise and Vera Lynn who had all helped raise money, but also about five 5-star UK and US generals who had a whale of a time reminiscing about their wartime experiences with 'Alex'.
The first chair holder, Professor Peter Sleight, was privileged to attend the unveiling of the statue of Field Marshal Earl Alexander in front of the new barracks in Bird Cage Walk, London. The current Field Marshal Earl Alexander Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine is Professor Keith Channon.
The last thirty years have been a very exciting time for cardiology and cardiac surgery, with a huge expansion in both the academic and the clinical side of cardiovascular medicine and cardiology. From less than a handful of people in its early days, the division now employs over 150 members of staff, and is housed over four sites - Level 6, West Wing of the John Radcliffe Hospital, the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, the OCMR Unit (Oxford Centre for Clinical Magnetic Resonance Research) and CCRF (Cardiovascular Clinical Research Facility). In 2012, we became part of the Radcliffe Department of Medicine (RDM). The division has a great debt of gratitude to the BHF in seeding this development and making this rapid progress possible.
Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis
Field Marshal (Alexander, Harold Rupert Leofric George) was born in London in 1891. He received training at Sandhurst and during the First World War commanded a battalion of Irish Guards on the Western Front. However it was during the Second World War with his North African campaigns against Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and later commands in Italy and western Europe that he is most noted for. He was Governor General of Canada (1946-52), gaining the rank of Earl in 1952 and becoming the Minister of Defence under Winston Churchill until 1954.
The BHF was established in 1961 and the Field Marshal was chosen as its first president because of his having sustained a minor coronary while Governor General of Canada. He was an ideal choice, having good links with politicians such as Sir Harold MacMillan (the then prime minister) and with royalty, with whom he was a great favourite.
During his lifetime he obtained numerous medals, foreign orders and honorary degrees and he devoted much of his retirement to painting. He died of a heart attack in 1969.