Lives of the fellows

William Carson Dick

b.14 April 1941 d.16 March 1995
MB ChB Glasg(1965) Dobst RCOG(1967) MRCP(1968) MD(1969) FRCP(1980)

Carson Dick was a distinguished rheumatologist. To know him was to encounter something like a human dynamo - he energized everyone with whom he came into contact. He was born in Glasgow and educated at Hutcheson’s Boys Grammar School, one of the best-known schools in Glasgow, from which many eminent members of the medical profession have come. His father was a well known pathologist and he decided on a career in medicine, entering the University of Glasgow Medical School and graduating in 1965.

His original plans were to pursue a career in general practice and, to that end, he obtained a diploma in obstetrics and gynaecology in 1967. However, he soon realized that hospital medicine was beckoning and he took the MRCP in 1968. He entered rheumatology as the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council lecturer in 1968 where he worked with Watson Buchanan at the Centre for Rheumatic Diseases in Baird Street, Glasgow. It soon became clear he had an active and fertile mind which positively poured out novel ideas and his MD thesis, which was awarded with commendation by the University of Glasgow, encompassed the development of objective methods, such as the use of isotope scanning as a means of quantifying inflammation within joints. He spent a year with Carl Pearson at the University of California from 1971 to 1972 and returned to Glasgow as a consultant physician and honorary clinical lecturer in the University’s department of medicine, based at the Centre for Rheumatic Diseases in Baird Street in 1972.

Carson was a very colourful character. He was a small man but a bundle of energy and had an extraordinary capacity to generate ideas which others could take on and develop into successful research projects. He had an encyclopaedic command of the rheumatological literature which he used to good effect in scientific meetings. He could be quite abrasive at times but his penetrating criticism of colleagues was often done with tongue in cheek and his presence at meetings or conferences certainly enlivened and enriched the debate. Like many high achievers he seemed to require very little sleep and would often talk and drink late into the night and arrive at work bright and early in the morning, full of his usual energy and verve.

In 1979 he was appointed the William Leech reader in rheumatology in Newcastle which was the first academic appointment in rheumatology in the North East of England. There he demonstrated his teaching abilities and became an extremely effective and well liked undergraduate teacher, resulting in his being elected as staff president of the Medical Students Society. With his usual energy he set up a local charity to support research activities. He fostered academic links with rheumatology units in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and in Eastern Europe. He was at one point secretary of the then Heberden Society, a task to which he brought his usual vigour and iconoclastic views.

Towards the end of this career in Newcastle he became increasingly disillusioned with the limitations of drug treatment in rheumatology and concentrated on a more holistic approach which was characterized by holding open house sessions in his home on Monday evenings, when patients, relatives, doctors and medical students could gather for a glass of wine and a ‘song’ which many of his patients claimed did far better for them than any of the drugs prescribed for their disease.

In 1993 Carson developed rectal carcinoma for which he had major surgery. As with everything, Carson took this in his stride and made a rapid recovery to return to his beloved sport - golf, at which he managed to bring his handicap down to six. Sadly, the disease re-occurred in the autumn of 1994 and he had to leave work on health grounds in December 1994. Despite the onset of a terminal illness, he remained cheerful to the end. He was supported throughout by his second wife, Margaret, and his two children. His memorial service, which he wrote himself, was full of a pawky sense of humour and unconventionality which was vintage Carson.

Roger D Sturrock

[Brit.med.J., 1995,311,682]

(Volume X, page 109)

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