Lives of the fellows

Anita Elizabeth Harding

b.17 September 1952 d.11 September 1995
MB BS Lond(1975) MRCS LRCP(1975) MRCP(1977) MD(1981) FRCP(1989)

Anita Harding was by general consent one of the outstanding figures of her generation, not only in Britain, but world-wide. Her contribution to neuro-genetics will be her professional memorial: her monograph, derived from her doctoral thesis, on the inherited ataxias clarified a century of confusion. She and her colleagues identified the genetic defects in a range of these and the mitochondrial cytopathies, the dystonias and the familial amyloid neuropathies.

Her investigations were based on the clinical neuro-genetics group (the first of its kind in the UK) which she set up at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and the Institute of Neurology, Queen Square, in 1985. In the decade of her leadership, more than two hundred original publications and review articles appeared. Her writings were exemplary: succinct, clear, meticulously prepared and revised, and embodying the results of painstaking investigations leading to definitive advances in our knowledge and understanding of neuro-genetics.

Her remarkable talents as a physician won the neuro-genetics clinic a reputation for accurate diagnosis in highly complex cases (patients were referred from all over Britain and other parts of Europe) and for wise, realistic and compassionate counselling of patients in whose families a genetic disorder had been recognized.

Anita Harding was an outstanding lecturer and was in great demand internationally. She was often billed with her husband, P K Thomas, the distinguished authority on peripheral neuropathy. Their separate intellectual contributions attracted large audiences and their joint entertaining was legendary. The couple played an important role in the founding of the European Neurological Society. Her other international responsibilities were wide and included membership of three groups of the World Federation of Neurology of one of which - that relating to the inherited ataxias - she was chairman for a decade from the astonishingly early age of 31. She was on the editorial board of ten international journals. One of these was Brain, where her wisdom, insight and good humour were invaluable.

Anita Harding was born in Birmingham in 1952 and educated at King Edward VI High School for Girls and the Royal Free Hospital Medical School. She received her training in clinical genetics in Cedric Carter’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.78] unit at the Institute of Child Health and learnt the techniques of molecular genetics during a short period of sabbatical leave, mainly spent in the United States. Her training in neurology began under R W Gilliatt [Munk’s Roll, Vol. IX, p. 195] at the Middlesex Hospital. After her research training she went to Queen Square, where she rose quickly to be senior lecturer in 1986, reader in 1988 and professor two years later. She was to have become the head of the university department of clinical neurology in October 1995. Two months earlier it became clear that she was mortally ill from cancer of the colon. During her last weeks while suffering the rigours of chemotherapy she remained as active as ever. She discussed the work, publication plans and future careers of her doctoral students and the development of the department she would now never lead.

Anita Harding had a remarkable capacity for friendship. She was naturally warm and inclined to think well of people, though she was quick to recognize humbug and dismiss it. She had a beguiling sense of fun and a fine appreciation of the ironies of life which she enjoyed sharing with others and which sustained her and her visitors during her final illness which was borne with courage and dignity.

W I McDonald

[Brit.med.J., 1995,311,1085; The Independent, 5 Oct 1995; The Times, 23 Sept 1995; The Daily Telegraph, 26 Oct 1995]

(Volume X, page 190)

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