Lives of the fellows

Reginald Hall

b.1 October 1931 d.20 July 1994
CBE(1989) BSc Durh(1954) MB BS(1956) MRCP(1959) MD(1963) FRCP(1970) Hon MD Wales(1994)

Reg Hall was an outstanding physician, clinical scientist and teacher, and a key figure in the development of clinical endocrinology in Britain. He was born at Belmont, County Durham, the son of Reginald Peacock Hall and his wife Maggie (née Wilson). He received his secondary education at the Alderman Wraith Grammar School, Spennymoor, a school that has provided a number of distinguished members of the medical profession. He then went to King’s College, Newcastle - a college of the University of Durham - graduating with first class honours.

It was as a student that he first developed an interest in the thyroid. His BSc project was a study of metabolic rate in the rat, stimulated by the discovery of tri-iodo-thyronine in the previous year. He was a distinguished member of a very talented cohort of Durham students who graduated in 1956 and his achievements were reflected in the award to him of a number of undergraduate prizes against very stiff competition. Yet his activities during his student years were not limited solely to academic pursuits. As a schoolboy he was a champion sprinter and at university he represented the medical team at hockey; he also developed a number of botanical interests, particularly in the byrophytes.

Over the course of the next decade Reg received most of his postgraduate training in the professorial medical unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle, which was to become his professional base for the next 25 years, although he did spend an important year as Harkness fellow with John Stanbury at the thyroid clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital. At that time John Stanbury’s clinic was regarded as the Mecca for thyroid research and he attracted a number of the best young clinical scientists to Boston, many of whom have subsequently made major contributions to the development of clinical endocrinology. The 1960s were also an exciting time in Newcastle as a specialist endocrine service was being established by C Nat Armstrong and Sir George Smart. New approaches to medical undergraduate education were being pioneered and Reg Hall played a major role in these developments. He also took a laboratory interest in the immunology of thyroid disease, which was to persist throughout his life. He was a Wellcome senior research fellow from April 1964 to January 1967, when he was appointed consultant physician to the Infirmary and senior lecturer in medicine in the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. He was awarded a personal chair as professor of medicine in 1970. There was a considerable expansion of the endocrine group in the 1970s which developed a major international reputation, attracting many talented young physicians and scientists from the UK and abroad. Reg led and encouraged a wide range of endocrine interests at this time, including the development of thyroide-stimulating hormone assays, clinical physiological studies of the releasing hormones, the epidemiology of thyroid disease and the control of thyrotrophin secretion, as well as maintaining his personal commitment to the study of the autoimmune thyroid diseases.

Reg Hall moved to Cardiff in 1980 when he was appointed professor of medicine and head of department at the University of Wales College of Medicine, a post he held until his premature retirement through ill health. A number of his colleagues moved with him and the 1980s proved to be as productive as the 1970s. At Cardiff, in a surprisingly short time, he built up units of endocrine immunology, cellular immunology and neuroendocrinology which achieved an international reputation. He studied synthetic tyrotrophin-releasing hormone and other hypothalamic hormones, the radioreceptor assay for thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins, the isolation and characterization of the hydrotrophin receptor, the regulation of thyroid antibody synthesis, the control of thyrotrophin secretion in vivo, the regulation of lymphocyte function in auto-immune thyroid disease and the study of thyroid disease in pregnancy and the post-partum period.

He was a prolific writer and published more than 400 scientific papers, contributed to many textbooks and co-authored Fundamentals of clinical endocrinology, London, Pitman, 1969, now in its fourth edition. He was president of the endocrine section of the Royal Society of Medicine (1974 to 1976), president of the Thyroid Club (1978 to 1984), chairman of the specialist advisory committee for endocrinology and diabetes at the Royal College of Physicians (1979 to 1986), chairman of the RCP’s standing committee on endocrinology and diabetes (1983 to 1989) and an honorary member of the Association of American Physicians, the British Diabetic Association and the European Thyroid Association. He was awarded the CBE for services to medicine and in 1994 he received an honorary MD from the University of Wales in recognition of his services to academic medicine. Reg Hall achieved all this with a style which was uniquely his own. He accepted every challenge with enthusiasm, vigour and commitment. He succeeded in establishing research groups of people with disparate skills and varying backgrounds and created highly productive teams. He was the guide, mentor and friend of all who worked with him at a senior and junior level.

Reg married twice. His first wife, Joan Scott Paterson, died shortly after the birth of his eldest daughter. In 1960 he married Molly Hill, also a doctor, and they had two sons and three daughters. He and Molly were generous and hospitable to all. It was a pleasure to visit their home, which always appeared to be full - with their five children and their friends, interesting people from overseas and experts on a wide range of subjects; the occasional ‘lame dog’ being helped unobtrusively over a stile.

Reg Hall’s record is all the more remarkable in that he battled with illness for the last 12 years of his life. He developed primary amyloidosis with infiltration of the myocardium, the first effects of which became apparent in 1982, and he had a cardiac transplant performed by Magdi Yacoub in 1984. He faced his long illness strengthened by his strong Christian faith and an absolute determination that his activities should not be curtailed unnecessarily. He continued to work full time until 1989, when he retired from the chair in Cardiff, but continued his research in thyroid disease in pregnancy. He also lectured both in the UK and overseas. During the last year of his life he was preparing a book on major eponyms in clinical medicine. Early retirement enabled him to spend more time with his enlarging family - all five children married in the years following - and with his friends. He had more time to indulge his passion for reading, to re-establish his botanical interests, and to become a highly accomplised cook. The strength and warmth of the bonds which united the family were a great source of pleasure to him and they, and particularly Molly, were an unfailing source of support throughout his long illness and especially during his last few weeks.

D C Evered

[The Times, 3 Aug 1994; The Independent, 3 Aug 1994; The Daily Telegraph, 3 Aug 1994]

(Volume X, page 185)

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