Lives of the fellows

Walter Alfred James Crane

b.27 June 1925 d.29 December 1982
MB ChB Glasg(1947) MD(1959) MRCPG(1966) MRCP(1967) FRCPath(1971) FRCPG(1972) FRCP(1975)

Bill Crane was born at Kilmarnock, Scotland. He entered the University of Glasgow in 1942, and graduated MB ChB with commendation in 1947 and MD with honours and a Bellahouston gold medal in 1959.

After his house jobs, Crane spent two years as a pathologist in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Mediterranean and Middle East. As an undergraduate, he had been noted by Tom Symington and Alastair Currie (later Sir Tom and Sir Alastair), who encouraged him to consider a career in pathology; and he subsequently (in 1950) became Hansen research scholar in pathology in the University department of pathology at the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow. It was soon obvious that he was highly gifted both as a teacher and as a diagnostic histopathologist; and he also quickly demonstrated an outstanding talent for research, tackling problems in man and in experimental animals with vigour and imagination. He was appointed registrar in 1952 and lecturer in 1954.

When he started his career the Royal Infirmary Department was an adrenal-centred environment, and he was soon drawn into this field. He concentrated on the role of the mineralocorticoids in hypertension, an interest which he retained throughout most of his subsequent career. He rounded out his training in the basic sciences by spending a year (1956 — 1957) as assistant professor with Dwight Ingle, in the Ben May Laboratory for Cancer Research (of which Charles Huggins was director) at the University of Chicago, USA, returning there for some months in 1962 as associate professor in the department of physiology.

In 1959 he moved from Glasgow to a senior lectureship, with honorary consultant status, at the University of Sheffield. He was first assistant to Douglas Collins, and when Collins died in 1964 Crane predictably succeeded him as Joseph Hunter professor of pathology and head of department. He was also appointed honorary director of cancer research, and as such he increasingly turned his attention to aspects of tumour pathology. For many years he served on the executive and finance committee of the Yorkshire Cancer Research Campaign.

Crane was a fine speaker with good ‘presence’, and an outstanding teacher. With his warm and friendly personality he attracted able young graduates to a career in pathology, and others came from abroad to train under him, including a succession of young Greek pathologists. He had little difficulty in building up a large and successful department. He played a considerable part in the development of the multidisciplinary division of laboratory medicine at Sheffield, and in the development of laboratory services throughout the Trent Region.

He was much involved in the planning and building of the new Hallamshire Teaching Hospital, particularly during his period of office as dean of the medical school (1976-1979).

His reputation in research led to his being invited by the Medical Research Council to serve on its Systems Board from 1974 to 1977, and on one of the Board’s grants committees.

Crane’s gentle, courteous personality, backed by a fine intellect and good judgement, made him a highly respected and popular member of any organization which he served; and not surprisingly his experience and talents were in ever-increasing demand, nationally and internationally. He gave generously of himself and his time to many spheres of activity. He was a staunch supporter of the Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and his term of office as its scientific secretary from 1969 to 1974 was both happy and successful. During it the links with the Netherlands Pathological Society were greatly strengthened, and in 1976 the Dutch pathologists showed their appreciation by making him an honorary member of their Society.

In 1975 he helped to found the Association of Professors of Pathology of Great Britain, becoming its first secretary. He was an examiner for the Royal College of Pathologists for many years and a member of its Council from 1970 to 1973. He served as an external examiner in pathology to many universities in this country. Through his deep interest in medical education, he was appointed a member of the medical sub-committee of the University grants committee in 1978 and was still serving on it at the time of his death. He represented the University of Sheffield on the General Medical Council from 1979, when he was also elected a member of its education committee. He became a member of the executive committee of the Council in 1980.

Crane travelled extensively abroad, particularly to the United States of America, Greece, and the Far East. In 1975 he spent several months helping the medical school at Salisbury, Rhodesia. In 1982 he visited Oman as a member of the Teaching Hospital Advisory Committee of Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman; and later that year, on behalf of the British Council, he visited some twenty medical centres in Japan to discuss the organization of undergraduate and postgraduate medical education.

Crane had a coronary thrombosis in 1977, exactly five years prior to the second and fatal attack. He displayed great courage and determination in recovering from it, and gradually resumed his wide-ranging activities, both professional and social. He was pleased to have completed his term of office as dean of the medical school. There is no doubt that had he lived further opportunities for service would have been open to him.

Although a fine swimmer, his main way of relaxing was social - an evening’s bridge gave him particular pleasure. Throughout his life he had exhibited a striking capacity for forming strong and enduring friendships; as the following quote from a letter from one of his Greek trainees (Professor Delides of Athens) illustrates clearly: Throughout the years of my association with Professor Crane, he was an inspiring teacher and sincere friend; and his human and academic qualities shall for ever remain engraved in my remembrance and in that of his friends and colleagues in Athens.’

No man was prouder of his family, and they reciprocated his feelings. He was survived by his wife, Yvonne, whom he married in 1952; a son, Peter, training to be a surgeon; and a daughter, Susan, a school teacher. His many friends were saddened by his premature death.

RC Curran

[, 1983, 286, 403; Lancet, 1983, 1, 252]

(Volume VII, page 120)

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