Lives of the fellows

Leonard Findlay

b.5 February 1878 d.14 June 1947
MB ChB Glasg(1900) MD Glasg(1904) DSc Glasg(1912) FRFPS(1914) MRCP(1930) FRCP(1936)

Leonard Findlay was born in Glasgow, the son of Dr William Findlay, physician and essayist, who wrote under the pen-name of George Umber, and Margaret (Carruthers) Findlay. He was educated at Allan Glen’s School and Glasgow University.

Following graduation he held resident posts at the Western Infirmary before beginning his work in the University department of pathology under Sir Robert Muir. Here he spent several years before his appointment as assistant to Professor Samson Gemmell on the medical wards of the Infirmary. While holding this post he became interested in the problem of rickets and began experiments in the department of physiology in an attempt to throw light on its aetiology.

He resigned his post at the Infirmary and after a period of post-graduate study in Germany returned to Glasgow in 1914 to devote his time entirely to paediatrics. He was appointed physician to the newly-built Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Yorkhill, and there his active and ardent spirit found full scope.

In 1919 he became the first holder of the Leonard Gow lectureship in diseases of infancy and childhood. Soon after this, however, his work was interrupted by his appointment as director of child welfare to the League of Nations Red Cross Society at Geneva, a post he held with distinction for a year. On returning to Glasgow he devoted himself with renewed vigour to his work at the Hospital and introduced paediatrics into the curriculum of the Glasgow Medical School.

When the Samson Gemmell chair of medical paediatrics (later changed to child health) was founded he became its first professor. Findlay was a clinician of the old school, a shrewd and discerning observer and a dogmatic teacher whose opinions were inclined at times to be rigid and inflexible.

His reputation, however, is based more on his research, especially in connection with rickets, which in the first two decades of the twentieth century was rampant in the large industrial centres such as Glasgow. His experimental work on dogs led him to the opinion that rickets was in some way determined by lack of fresh air and exercise.

When in the second decade of the century the vitamins came into their own, he was loath to change his views, believing that although cod-liver oil cured and prevented rickets, lack of it was not necessarily the cause. The recognition of the prevalence of deficiency diseases was at this time in its infancy.

He interested himself in tetany and with Professor D. Noel Paton isolated a guanidine compound from the blood of some cases. With him he also investigated the factors influencing child health and infant deaths in Glasgow and published the results in a Medical Research Council Monograph, Poverty, nutrition and growth (Special Report Series, No. 101, 1926). He wrote widely on all aspects of paediatrics.

In 1930 Findlay resigned from the chair in Glasgow to practise in London, where he was appointed to the staff of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Shadwell. For a time during the Second World War he was physician to the children’s department of the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. He retired in 1943. He was a life-long member of the British Medical Association and was president of the section on diseases of children at the annual meeting in 1924.

Tall and spare, with dark red hair worn rather long, he was a well-known and easily recognised figure at medical meetings. He spoke frequently and his dogmatism often led him into arguments which did much to enliven a dull meeting. It seemed that he was unable to accept readily the work of others while believing implicity in his own.

Yet he was a most stimulating and inspiring chief who set an example of industry which was infectious. His ward-rounds held daily were deservedly popular with post-graduate students because he demonstrated the powers of clinical observation although not despising laboratory aids. At times his manner seemed gruff, but this was not to be taken seriously. For him his work always came first. He had no hobbies.

The post-graduate students whom he attracted often sought his advice and this was freely given, especially so to those whose industry and enthusiasm matched his own. He was a member of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland, corresponding member of the Société de Paediatrie de Paris, a fellow of the Medical Society, Budapest, and president of the British Paediatric Association in 1937.

He married Gertrude, daughter of James S. Binning, of Blackheath, London, in 1905. They had two daughters.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1947, 1, 951; Glasg, med. J., 1947, 28, 233-4; Lancet, 1947, 1, 929 (p); Postgrad, med. J., 1947, 23, 308; B. S. Veeder. Paediatric profiles. St. Louis, 1957, 189-92 (p).]

(Volume V, page 130)

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