Lives of the fellows

James Henry Dible

b.29 October 1889 d.1 July 1971
MB ChB Glasg(1912) MRCP(1921) FRCP(1929) Hon LLD Glasg(1953) Hon FCPath(1966)

Henry Dible was born in Southampton, the son of Samuel Dible, an accountant, and of Ellen the daughter of John Henry Bell, a brewer. He was educated at King Edward VI School, Southampton and the University of Glasgow, where he came under the influence of Robert Muir, for whom he retained a great respect and affection. He graduated with honours in 1912. After house appointments at the Western and Royal Infirmaries Glasgow, Dible served from 1914 to 1918 in France and Italy, becoming OC 7th Mobile Laboratory in 1916. He already knew French and learned Italian during this period. He was awarded the Czechoslovak Military Medal (1st Class). After the war Dible was appointed Senior Lecturer in Pathology at the University of Manchester. In 1925 he became Professor of Pathology at the Royal Free Hospital, London; in 1928 he succeeded E.H. Kettle as Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology at the Welsh National School of Medicine in Cardiff, and a year later became George Holt Professor of Pathology in the University of Liverpool, where he remained until 1937. This was a happy and productive period. He was a great teacher, erudite and with a fine command of English and the ability to explain complex subjects in simple terms. During this period he wrote the majority of Dible & Davie’s Textbook of Pathology.

In 1936 E.H. Kettle, who had the year before founded the Department of Pathology at the British (now Royal) Postgraduate Medical School died, and Dible for the second time succeeded him. Here he was to remain for 20 years until his retirement in 1957. Two years later war broke out and Dible was left virtually single handed. In spite of this he was able to continue his researches into fatty degeneration with G. Popjak, and to produce fundamental papers on crush kidney with E.G.L. Bywaters, and on the pathology of hepatitis with John (later Sir John) McMichael and Sheila (later Dame Sheila) Sherlock. The study of liver disease remained a lasting interest, and during this period he started on the study of limb ischaemia which he was to continue after his retirement.

Dible received many honours. He was President of the International Society of Geographic Pathology (1960-62), Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine (1962) Sims Woodhead medallist, Honorary Member of the Pathological Society which he had served for many years as Secretary, and Honorary Member of the Association of Clinical Pathologists, Indian Pathological Society, and the International Academy of Pathology. He was a Liveryman of the Society of Apothecaries and a Freeman of the City of London. He was Humphry Davy Rolleston Lecturer of the Royal College of Physicians, in 1950. In 1953 his old University conferred on him the Honorary Degree of LLD. In 1969 he was elected an Honorary Member of the Netherlands Pathological Society, a fitting appreciation of his unobtrusive work in fostering the association of the Netherlands and British Societies. The man behind all these honours was of average height and spare build, with a clipped moustache, bow tie, a turned down trilby hat and a pink geranium in his buttonhole. He was a gentle and rather shy man, always approachable and tolerant of human frailty. He was intolerant only of petty bureaucracy and pomposity.

Outside his profession Dible was a Francophile and a scholar. He was an admirer of Ambrose Pare and of Baron Larry. His study of the latter had been a life’s hobby and culminated in the publication, the year before his death, of what will probably prove to be his most lasting publication Napoleon’s Surgeon.

As a young man Dible had played hockey for Glasgow and Manchester Universities; later he became a keen shot and yachtsman. In his later years he took up fishing with great enjoyment.

In 1923 Dible married Marjorie Yeo, daughter of Samuel John Allen, cotton merchant. They had two sons and a daughter.

Dible’s last years were clouded by crippling arthritis, though fortunately he maintained his intellect and interest to the end, which came mercifully quickly.

CV Harrison

[Brit.med.J., 1971, 2, 192, 540; Lancet, 1971, 2, 171; Times, 3 July 1971; Southern Evening Echo, 3 July 1971; J. of Path., 1972]

(Volume VI, page 149)

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