Lives of the fellows

Francis Richard (Sir) Fraser

b.14 February 1885 d.2 October 1964
Kt(1944) BA Cantab(1907) MB ChB Edin(1910) MD Edin(1922) Hon LLD Edin(1949) Hon LLD Lond(1961) FRCPE(1918) MRCP(1920) FRCP(1926)

The vast majority of College Fellows have been distinguished physicians; several have been inspired teachers, a few outstanding administrators and fewer still disciplined research workers. Francis Fraser staked a claim in each of these categories. He was born in Edinburgh to Sir Thomas Richard Fraser, F.R.S., the University’s professor of pharmacology and therapeutics, and Susannah Margaret Duncan, the daughter of a clergyman.

Before entering Edinburgh’s Medical School he had gone from its Academy to Cambridge and taken a first in the natural sciences tripos. With house posts at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and the Royal Infirmary behind him he decided to avoid inevitable comparison with a brilliant father, who had introduced physostigmine and written a classic on strophanthin, by turning aside from the traditional post-graduate trail to the continental schools and taking the new one to the United States.

In New York he worked with Alfred Cohn on the effects of digitalis on electro-cardiograms and learnt the techniques of such contemporary investigators as Donald Van Slyke and Howard Means, and by 1914, when he returned to England with the Harvard medical unit, was physician to the Presbyterian Hospital at the Columbia Medical Centre.

He joined the R.A.M.C., served in France and at the Hampstead Hospital, and from 1918 was consulting physician to the British Army of the Rhine.

In 1920, at the age of thirty-five, he was appointed assistant director of the new whole-time university unit in clinical medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Two years later he became its director and succeeded Sir Archibald Garrod as professor of medicine. He made the first trials of liver treatment in pernicious anaemia, conducted some of the earliest researches into cardiac dyspnoea with Haldane and Barcroft, and set up a thyroid clinic with Dunhill.

Such was his reputation by 1934 that he was invited to become the first director and professor of medicine at the new post-graduate school at Hammersmith. There, with E. H. Kettle as professor of pathology, he selected a staff that included Paul Wood, Sharpey-Schafer, J. G. Scadding, Stuart-Harris, Ashley Miles and Janet Vaughan. With the object of correlating teaching while encouraging individual responsibility he organised clinical pathological conferences and staff rounds, where free discussion was interrupted only by his repeated homily on ‘higher medicine’.

It is unlikely that any other man in England in 1939 had Fraser’s knowledge of every aspect of hospital organisation from practice to staffing, teaching and recording. He had visited medical schools in the U.S.A. and Canada in 1925 and 1933, lectured on postgraduate education for the Melbourne Committee in 1928, helped to prepare the 1932 edition of the British Pharmacopoeia, served on the 1931 Lancet Commission on Nursing, and been on the editorial staffs of the Quarterly Journal of Medicine and the British encyclopaedia of medical practice.

Salusbury MacNalty rightly considered him the one man suited to become consulting physician to the Emergency Medical Service and to progress from its deputy-director to its full director. For six arduous and anxious years he showed his flair for leadership and tact, convincing every hospital staff of the rightness of unpopular decisions and producing uniformity of treatment by individualistic physicians.

Throughout he kept his visions of a regionalised post-graduate training for demobilised doctors and of the incorporation of London’s special hospitals in a federated university scheme. He established both with his characteristic thoroughness and seemingly tireless energy. Yet somehow he found time while director of the British Postgraduate Medical Federation from 1946 to 1960 to serve on the senate of London University, to be its vice-chancellor from 1947 to 1949, and to be a member of seven of its special committees on subjects that ranged from academic studies to archive administration.

At the College he was a Councillor from 1934 to 1936, Goulstonian lecturer in 1927, Croonian lecturer in 1938 and Harveian orator in 1960. At the Edinburgh College he gave the Frederick lecture in 1946. His honorary degrees and his knighthood in 1944 and his Order of Orange Nassau in 1948 were certainly well-earned. In 1919 he married Mary Claudine Stirling, daughter of a solicitor. They had one son.

Richard R Trail

[Brit. Heart J., 1965, 27, 449-52; Brit.med.J., 1964, 2, 950-51 (p), 1015; J.Path.Bact., 1965, 90, 701-11, bibl.; Lancet, 1964, 2, 867-8 (p); Times, 5 (p), 8 Oct. 1964.]

(Volume V, page 141)

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