Lives of the fellows

Francis Findlay Hellier

b.30 June 1904 d.19 November 1986
OBE 1944 BA Cantab(1929) MRCS LRCP(1929) MBBS Lond(1929) MD(1931) MA Cantab(1931) MRCP(1931) FRCP(1941)

Francis Findlay Hellier, who was always known as Frank, was born in Leeds. He was proud of his city; his father had been professor of obstetrics and gynaecology in the University of Leeds and his grandfather, the Revd Benjamin Hellier, was at one time principal of Wesley College, Leeds. His father was born in 1853 and was 51 years old when Frank was born, so the lives of these two men extended over 133 years. Frank was educated at Oundle, where he was head boy, and then went on to Caius College, Cambridge, for his preclinical training. He obtained firsts in both parts of the natural sciences tripos. He was taught by several famous physiologists, including Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins [Munk's Roll, Vol.IV,p.535] and E D Adrian (later Lord Adrian) [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII,p.3]. He returned to Leeds for his clinical undergraduate training and after qualification went on to the Brompton Hospital, intending to become a general physician. He subsequently returned to Leeds General Infirmary as RMO , and later medical tutor, where he was soon attracted into dermatology by J T Ingram [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.252] who had become the first full-time dermatologist in the city in 1927. Frank used to help him in the skin department for two sessions a week when working as medical tutor. Ingram was a powerful character who considered dermatology to be a branch of general medicine of equal status to that of other specialties. This concept appealed to Frank and he decided to specialize in dermatology. He spent six months with H W Barber [Munk's Roll, Vol.V,p.23] at Guy’s Hospital and later studied with Pautrier, one of France’s outstanding dermatologists. He often referred to this period of training in France, but later admitted that the French were ignorant of dermatology in countries other than their own. He was awarded the Chesterfield medal of St John’s Hospital in 1936. When he returned to Leeds he was appointed assistant physician to the skin department and helped Ingram to build up an outstanding clinical department of dermatology on the basis of good history taking, including social and psychological aspects, accurate clinical description of the skin lesions and complete general medical examination.

Ingram went off to France soon after the outbreak of war, leaving Frank to open a new, purpose-built skin department in 1940. Ingram returned to Leeds after Dunkirk, and Frank was released to join the Army and was appointed as dermatologist to Western Command. He believed in the rehabilitation of patients with skin disorders and encouraged graded physical exercise in the soldiers in his care. When he went to Normandy with the 21st Army Group he was one of the first to treat skin infections with topical penicillin, using tablets dissolved in sterile water. Purpuric eruptions were also common in the troops and he, with Geoffrey Hodgson, was instrumental in showing that this was due to the finish in khaki uniforms and not to the khaki itself.

He returned to Leeds after the war and when Ingram went to Newcastle in 1959 Frank became head of the department, and was given a personal chair in the University in 1968. His main interests were in histopathology and in industrial dermatitis. He had trained in histopathology when he worked as a demonstrator in the University of Leeds, and later with Woringer in France and Freudenthal in London. This interest continued throughout his life and after retirement he continued to teach histopathology to the junior staff of the department. Because of his expertise in industrial dermatitis, he did a considerable amount of legal work and for many years served as a member of the Medical Appeals Tribunal. He was widely read, had an excellent memory for the literature and for cases, but he was not a scientific laboratory worker. He edited, with W N Goldsmith [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.2Ol] the second edition of Recent advances in Dermatology, London, Churchill, in 1954, and gave the Watson Smith lecture at the College in 1969 on the ‘Application of dermatological concepts to general medicine’. He was honoured by being made president of the British Association of Dermatologists in 1964, and of the dermatological section of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1967. His father had been dean of medicine in 1917-18, but Frank failed to be elected dean in the early 1960s. He was chairman of St James Hospital management board, a member of the Leeds regional hospital board, and chairman and later president of Leeds Marriage Guidance Council.

Frank was an active man and a good sportsman. He just failed to get a blue at rugby, and continued to play golf until the end. Everyone remembered him as a friendly person and an excellent conversationalist - although sometimes one felt he was happier to talk than to listen. He was devoted to his wife Doreen, who had been a leading singer with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and it was a great tragedy for him when she died suddenly in 1974. He was sustained by his deep religious faith. He served the Methodist Church for many years.

Fortunately, he was able to enjoy his garden, music, reading, travelling and his family, until the very end. He died suddenly ‘in harness’, as he would have wished, while attending a consultation with lawyers in Manchester. He was survived by his son, a consultant physician in Swindon, and his daughter Sally. His eldest son had been killed in a road accident when a schoolboy.

NR Rowell

[Brit.med.J., 1987,294,130; Lancet, 1987,1,55; Times, 24 Nov 1986; J.Am Acad Dermatol, 1981,4,747-752]

(Volume VIII, page 219)

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