Lives of the fellows

Theodore (Sir) Crawford

b.23 December 1911 d.27 July 1993
KT(1973) BSc Glasg(1932) MBChB(1935) FRFPS(1940) MD(1941) MRCP(1960) FRCP Glasg(1962) FRCPath(1963) FRCP(1964) Hon LLD Glasg(1979) Hon FRCPath (1983)

Theo Crawford, son of an industrial chemist, was born in Dundalk, Ireland, and received his early education in England at Stanley House, Edgbaston. He then went on to St Peter's, York, Glasgow Academy and the University of Glasgow. He remained proud of his Scottish lineage but, like many a Scot before him, spent most of his professional life m London where he played a dominant role in pathology for more than a quarter of a century.

After a distinguished undergraduate career in Glasgow, where he graduated with honours, he proceeded to MD and won the Bellahouston gold medal for his thesis on carbohydrate metabolism in children. His laboratory work related to his clinical studies at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow and led him to a career in pathology. He was appointed as a lecturer in pathology in 1968. War service in the RAMC, as a specialist pathologist, interrupted his academic career but after demobilization in 1945 he was appointed senior lecturer in pathology in Glasgow University and assistant pathologist to the Royal Infirmary.

His career took a dramatic turn in 1946 when, at the remarkably young age of 35, he was appointed director of pathological services to St George’s Hospital and medical school in London. This newly created post at one of London’s smallest medical schools, situated at Hyde Park Corner, presented a formidable challenge; the creation of modern laboratory services, from a very inadequate base, to meet the needs of a medical school that 30 years later, greatly expanded, moved to Tooting in south west London.

In 1948, Crawford was appointed foundation professor of pathology at St George’s, a post which he held until his retirement in 1977. He instituted professional departments in the several pathology subjects and by judicious recruitment the posts were successfully filled, the holders being given every support and encouragement. Crawford himself laid the foundation for a research programme in arterial disease, in which he became an international authority. This attracted others with similar interests to his department of histopathology and over the last 45 years significant contributions to cardiovascular pathology have been made; a laudable record that continues to this day.

Theo Crawford’s influence in the field of pathology extended far beyond the confines of St George’s. He served - with many other extramural commitments - as a scientific member of the Medical Research Council, as a consultant adviser in pathology to the then DHSS and as chairman of its central pathology committee, as honorary secretary of the scientific committee of the British Empire Cancer Campaign and chairman of the same committee when the charity was renamed the Cancer Research Campaign (CRC). Perhaps his preferred interest lay in the Royal College of Pathologists; he was one of the founding fathers in 1962/63 and became the first registrar of the college, a demanding office in the first five years after its inception. This was followed by a term as a vice-president and subsequently as president from 1969-72.

During his presidency the college received its Royal Charter and moved, with the CRC, into its present gracious headquarters in Carlton House Terrace under a Crown lease. It had been made possible by the munificence of Sir Michael Sobel; a gift due in no small part to the influence of Crawford’s senior positions in the college and the CRC. He was knighted in January 1973 for his services to pathology.

As a man, Theo Crawford had an imposing - and to some, forbidding presence; characteristics which were more superficial than authentic for he had an innate shyness that prompted some reserve on first acquaintance. To his friends and colleagues he was warm and caring, intensely loyal, full of wisdom and sound judgement, and his integrity was absolute. When approached he would give carefully considered advice and help with complete discretion and confidentiality. He was a formidable committee member in that he spoke little but timed his contributions precisely and with telling effect. As a head of department he was liked, trusted and respected by all his staff. He possessed that uncommon attribute of feeding research ideas to his juniors and encouraging their development without seeking to impose professorial dominance.

Only a man of unusual energy could meet the innumerable professional demands made on his time and yet be able to pursue outside interests. This was true of Theo Crawford; he was an accomplished musician, playing the piano and cello. He was a regular attender at concerts and opera, being a devotee of Glyndebourne. He liked good food and had an appreciative palate for claret, which made him an excellent host and a desirable dinner guest. His love of trees and shrubs found expression in his love of gardening and his liking for hill walking, particularly in Scotland. He was twice married; first in 1938 to Margaret Green, a fellow Glasgow graduate who became a well known researcher in the epidemiology of coronary heart disease. They had two sons and three daughters. After Margaret’s death in 1973, he married Priscilla Chater who had been the first secretary of the College of Pathologists on its foundation.

W B Robertson

[Brit.med.J., 1993,307,441;The Independent, 3 Aug 1993; The Times, 4 Aug 1993; The Daily Telegraph, 3 Aug 1993]

(Volume IX, page 103)

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