Purefoy, Richard Dancer (1847–1919), obstetrician and gynaecologist, was born 4 August 1847 in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary, fourth son of Dr Thomas Purefoy (fl. 1839–69) and Alla Maria Purefoy (née Dancer). He was educated in Bective College, Dublin, and Raphoe Royal School, Donegal, before entering TCD, where he won a junior moderatorship in natural science and graduated BA (1871), L.Ch. (1871), MB (1872), and MD (1892) (Dubl.), and was admitted licentiate of the RCSI (1875) and RCPI (1885).
He was successively appointed house surgeon at St Mark's Ophthalmic Hospital, assistant master at the Coombe Hospital (1870), and assistant master (1874–7) and master (1896–1903) at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. As master he continued the modernising policies of his predecessor W. J. Smyly (qv): he expanded the extern maternity department, which relieved congestion in the hospital; developed the out-patients department, which allowed for specialist treatment for gynaecological patients, who were otherwise treated in general hospitals; and at his own expense built and equipped the first pathological laboratory in the hospital (1897). He added little to the advance of operative obstetrics, but during his mastership 11,098 women were delivered with a maternal mortality rate of 0.37 per cent, considered low at that time; and he resumed the annual publication of clinical reports (1896).
In 1902 a bill was introduced into parliament to establish standards for the training and accreditation of midwives, which encompassed England and Wales but not Ireland. At Purefoy's instigation a committee was formed, of which he was a member, which successfully ensured that the Rotunda was recognised as an accredited teaching hospital under the midwives' act (1903), thereby allowing Rotunda-trained midwives to practise throughout the British Isles. He also showed his appreciation of the nursing staff by presenting a portrait of Maria Magrath, midwife to the Rotunda (1851–78), to the hospital, a compliment that was returned when the nursing staff unveiled (1903) a bronze bust of Purefoy by Oliver Sheppard (qv), honouring his mastership. He freed the hospital from debt by organising the Lucina bazaar and inaugurated the Rotunda carol service, a popular event for many years. Consulting gynaecologist (from 1904), he was one of three former masters who administered the hospital during the absence (1914–17) of the master, Henry Jellett (qv).
He served as obstetrical surgeon to the Adelaide Hospital (1875–95), was appointed lecturer in materia medica in the Ledwich School of Medicine (1879), and published articles in professional journals. As examiner in midwifery and gynaecology at TCD, he is mentioned by Oliver St John Gogarty (qv) who, as an examinee, appreciated his sympathetic manner and generous marks, and paints a charming picture of the ‘aristocratic face . . . of the simple mannered . . . old gentleman . . . and his tall hat which they say he wears whilst operating’ (Tumbling in the hay (1939), 198). Member of the RIA (1909), he was awarded an hon. LLD (1912) (Dubl.), was elected fellow (1879) and president (1912–14) of the RCSI, president of the Royal Academy of Medicine, Ireland (1915–18), and fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, London. He read an address on behalf of the RCPI when King George V visited Dublin (1911).
A member of the RDS and an original member of the Georgian Society, he collected paintings, china, and furniture and owned fine horses. Possessed of a splendid baritone voice, he won a musical exhibition prize while a student at TCD and was a frequent participant in musical events, becoming president (1918–19) of the Hibernian Catch Club, a choral group. As he was a prominent figure in Dublin society and a leading obstetrician, it is tempting to think, as J. B. Lyons pointed out, that Joyce had Purefoy in mind when selecting the name Mina Purefoy for his maternity patient in Holles St. Hospital. An ardent member of the Irish freemasons and of the Order of the Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, he took a leading role in the activities of the Church of Ireland; ‘he did not talk of religion . . . but it was the foundation on which his life and character were built’ (Dubl. Jn. Med. Sc. (1919), ). He never married, lived at 62 Merrion Square, Dublin, and died there 27 June 1919. A memorial plaque was placed in St Ann's church, Dawson St., Dublin.