Lives of the fellows

Ronald Wilson Fairbrother

b.28 April 1902 d.18 April 1969
MB ChB Manch(1923) MD(1928) MRCP(1933) DSc(1936) FRCP(1941) FCPath(1963)

Ronald Fairbrother was born in Poulton le Fylde, the son of Thomas Wilson Fairbrother, architect, and Mary Eddleston He was educated at Baines Grammar School, Poulton le Fylde, and Manchester University, where he qualified with distinction in obstetrics in 1923.

He was house physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1924, assistant medical officer at Monsall Fever Hospital 1924-25, and first assistant in the Clinical Laboratory MRI 1925-26. In 1927 he was awarded a Dickinson Travelling Scholarship and this enabled him to work in the Department of Bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital, London, under Sir Almroth Wright and Colebrook, and for nearly a year at the Pasteur Institute, Paris under A. Besredka. In 1929 he became a research fellow in bacteriology at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine in London. This was followed by his appointment as lecturer in bacteriology at Manchester University 1930-61, assistant director of the Public Health Laboratory 1931-34, Director of the Clinical Laboratory at the Royal Infirmary 1938-61 and adviser in pathology to the Regional Hospital Board.

His notably successful Textbook of Bacteriology appeared in 1937 and ran into nine editions during his life time.

He was the first full time Director of the Clinical Laboratory and the first Director to be given a seat on the Medical Board; within a year of his appointment war broke out and as a member of the Territorial Army he was at once mobilised. He had a distinguished career in the RAMC, serving in the campaign in French North Africa and in the final campaign in Western Europe when he became Deputy Director of Pathology and finished the war with the rank of Colonel. During the war he became interested in antibiotics, the laboratory control of antibiotic therapy and bacterial resistance to antibiotic therapy. These subjects dominated the rest of his life and provided material for his prolific papers in a wide variety of journals and his many lectures to general practitioners and specialists in this highly important and ever-changing field. He was keenly interested in problems of bacteriological sterilization and aseptic cleanliness of operating theatres, and it was amusing and rewarding to hear him criticizing surgical methods.

Under his guidance his department grew amazingly and was always up to date with new ideas and techniques. It needed all his skill and foresight in planning. It was a wonderful training ground for young clinical pathologists.

Ronnie, or "Fairy" as he was often called, was a live wire - a most stimulating, co-operative and delightfully provocative colleague, particularly at meetings of the medical board or at the staff luncheon table. He was a keen and skilled sportsman having played for Blackburn Rovers 1st XI as an amateur centrehalf when he was described as "a great spoiler". He was a low handicap golfer and an all-rounder at cricket. It was a tragedy when in 1961 a severe illness struck him and kept him down. It was a joy and a privilege to have known and worked with him.

He married in 1931 Peggy Lewis Tuppen, daughter of John H. Tuppen, solicitor of London. There were two daughters, one a qualified pharmacist.

William Brockbank

[Brit.med.J., 1969, 2, 317; Lancet, 1969, 1, 948]

(Volume VI, page 170)

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