Lives of the fellows

Arthur Duncan Gardner

b.28 March 1884 d.28 January 1978
BM Oxon(1911) FRCS(1912) DM Oxon(1913) FRCP(1949)

Arthur Duncan Gardner was born at Rugeley, Staffs, the youngest of the three children of James William Gardner, a successful solicitor, and Mary, daughter of David Wrigley of Liverpool, a cotton merchant. He was educated at Rugby School, University College, Oxford, and St Thomas’s Hospital. His all round abilities were soon confirmed by his achieving second class honours in Law after two years’ study instead of the usual three, and by obtaining the FRCS after one year, and the DM two years from qualification. Also he played hockey for Oxford and his county and was a considerable gymnast.

After house appointments, his first post was as junior pathologist at St Thomas’s, and it seemed that his career was to be in that discipline. He was awarded the Radcliffe travelling fellowship and the Radcliffe prize for medical research. On the outbreak of war in 1914 he failed to gain entry to the RAMC for the strange reason that it was ‘full’, so he joined the Red Cross and served as a surgeon with the BEF in France.

On returning to civil life he was invited back to Oxford by the professor of pathology, Georges Dreyer, and became successively lecturer, reader, and professor of bacteriology. For over 20 years he was in charge of the Medical Research Council’s Bacteriological Standards Laboratory. Here he did some of his most important scientific work, notably improvement of the antigenic properties of the vaccines for cholera and whooping cough. Later, he carried out the bacteriology that was indispensible for the work of Florey and Chain on penicillin.

In 1927 he was elected a fellow of University College, where he was a much loved Steward of Common Room for many years, and exercised a soothing influence on colleagues with differing political views. He enjoyed teaching and was the author of three successful books - Microbes and Ultramicrobes (1931), Bacteriology for Medical Students and Practitioners, 4 editions (1933-53), and Penicillin as a Chemotherapeutic Agent (jointly, 1940).

In 1948 his career took an entirely new turn when he was appointed regius professor of medicine, and at a very difficult time. He was at once faced by a daunting array of problems, including the aftermath of the war, the advent of the National Health Service, the question of the continuance of the clinical medical school, and the relationship of the university to the hospitals. In addition, there was friction, if not warfare, between personalities and between departments. He faced all these formidable difficulties with equanimity, good humour, resolution and skill. He left the medical school in a much better state than he found it. His success in dealing with people derived from his transparent honesty, a complete lack of self-interest, and scrupulous fairness.

A clear and attractive speaker, he gave the Rede lectures at Cambridge on ‘The Proper Study of Mankind is Man’, the Litchfield lecture at Oxford, and at the age of 93 a memorable lecture at the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology at Oxford. As regius professor he was ex officio a student (fellow in other colleges) of Christ Church, and was paid the compliment of election to an honorary fellowship at his old college, University. He once described his hobbies as reading, writing and arithmetic, but they also included literature and music. Like his mother he had an excellent singing voice.

Age never bent his back or his spirit. He once remarked that if he were young again he would certainly volunteer to go to the moon. A delightful sense of humour, unobtrusive kindnesses and generous hospitality were other endearing traits. He married Violet, daughter of John Fowler Newsam of London, a shipping broker. There were three children of the marriage, two of whom predeceased him. His surviving son became a consulting surgeon at Torquay.

AM Cooke

[, 1977, 1, 447; Lancet, 1977, 1, 456; Times, 30 Jan 1978]

(Volume VII, page 200)

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