Lives of the fellows

William Noel Goldsmith

b.26 December 1893 d.4 April 1975
BA Cantab(1915) MRCS LRCP(1918) MA(1919) MB BChir(1921) MRCP(1922) MD(1927) FRCP(1937)

William Goldsmith, who became a dermatologist of international fame, was born in Kensington, the son of Ernst Goldschmidt, one of the founders of the London Metal Exchange, and of Bertha Fanny Feist, daughter of Wilhelm Feist, a wine merchant, of Frankfurt. Among his distinguished relations may be mentioned Viktor Goldschmidt, Professor of Mineralogy at Heidelberg (uncle), Franz Feist, Professor of Chemistry at Kiel (uncle) and Stefan Meyer, Head of the Radiological Institute, Vienna (cousin).

Educated at Rugby and Pembroke College, Cambridge, he entered University College Hospital Medical School in 1915. On qualification he served for two years in the RAMC, when he became interested in orthopaedics. How his lifelong absorption with dermatology began is unknown, but in 1922 he became a clinical assistant to A.M.H. (later Sir Archibald) Gray in the Department of Dermatology at UCH. Two years later, armed with the Radcliffe-Crocker Scholarship, he went abroad to study at dermatological centres in Paris, Vienna and Breslau. The magnet which drew him to the latter was Josef Jadassohn, whose combination of scientific dedication and clinical precision was to remain a permanent influence in his career. He was appointed assistant physician in the Department of Dermatology at UCH in 1932, and succeeded Gray as Physician-in-charge in 1946, until his retirement in 1959. He also worked at St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin from 1928 to 1939, and at a number of other hospitals in and around London.

A member of the British Association of Dermatology from 1926, he served as President in 1958 and became an Honorary Member in 1963. He edited its organ The British Journal of Dermatology from 1939 to 1948. He was President of the St John’s Hospital Dermatological Society in 1936-8, and of the Dermatological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine 1949-50. He was a member or honorary fellow of eight foreign dermatological societies.

His international reputation was founded on his book Recent Advances in Dermatology published in 1936, possibly the first and certainly the last successful attempt by a single author to survey and critically analyse the rapidly expanding developments in this subject.

In the College he served on the "Adrian Committee" (the Panel on External Radiotherapeutic Procedures of the Committee on Radiological Hazards to Patients). He participated in the work of the Joint Committee on Nomenclature of Disease, and with R.M.B. MacKenna prepared the section on Disease of the Skin, Mucous Membranes, Hair and Nails.

Throughout his working lifetime he carried out private consulting practice. He was a resourceful and painstaking clinician with a particular interest in treatment, including the formulation of local applications to incorporate the succession of new emulsifying agents which became available. He retained a well-informed interest in radiotherapy and was a pioneer in the use of Grenz rays in Britain. He was a member of the MRC Panel on the Dermatological Applications of ACTH and Cortisone.

He wrote entertainingly, but was a diffident and dull speaker. This, combined with his scholarly manner and serious expression, gave rise to the false impression of a pedant isolated from the realities of life. In fact he was an acutely sensitive person, with a deep understanding of the tragedy of the human condition, combined with a surprising sense of the ridiculous. His classical learning contrasted with his love of romantic music, especially Mahler’s, and his Edwardian suavity with his taste for art nouveau. He was a lifelong student of ballet and an accomplished ballroom dancer.

On 18 March, 1969, after his retirement from hospital work, he married Miss Irene Sharp (daughter of Richard H. Sharp, a Transport Controller of London) who for many years had been his faithful private secretary and literary amanuensis, and who was to nurse him through several painful illnesses in his later years.

PJ Hare

[Brit.med.J., 1975, 2, 282; Lancet, 1975, 1, 933; Times, 9 Apr 1975; Brit.J.Derm., 1975, 93, 725]

(Volume VI, page 201)

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