Lives of the fellows

Kenneth Robson Hill

b.20 April 1911 d.19 February 1973
BSc AKC Lond(1932) MB BS(1937) MD(1946) MRCP(1957) FRIC(1962) FRCPath(1964) FRCP(1970)

Kenneth Robson Hill was born at Washington, Co.Durham, the son of Frederick Hill, a schoolmaster, and his wife, Lydia, daughter of George Robson, a mine manager. He was educated at Washington Grammar School and qualified BSc and AKC from King’s College, London, in 1932. He then read medicine at Westminster Medical School, graduating MB BS in 1937. He served as house physician and house surgeon at the Westminster from 1937-1938, went into general practice until 1939, and joined the RAMC on the outbreak of the second world war.

During the war he saw service mainly in West Africa and it was this period that gave him his lifelong concern for Africa and its peoples. He was a pioneer in the treatment of yaws with penicillin. On demobilization he became lecturer in pathology at Durham Medical School, and a year spent on a Rockefeller Fellowship at the Johns Hopkins Hospital provided the stimulus for his development as a medical educationalist. In 1949 he was appointed the first professor of pathology at the University College of the West Indies. His hard work and enthusiasm overcame local difficulties and he built up a notable department within seven years. He also performed important research on the pathology of tropical liver diseases. As his abilities became recognized on a wider scale, he held a number of WHO consultancies, and in 1956 he returned to London as professor of pathology at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine. As a pathologist and administrator he devoted himself to organizing an expanded department renowned for its teaching, research and service. He always held, and practised, that these three facets of medical school pathology cannot be separated. In 1946 he proceeded MD, in 1957 he took the MRCP and was elected a Fellow in 1970. In 1962 he was elected FRIC, and in 1964 became a founder Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists.

Kenneth Hill’s great contribution to medical education is difficult to gauge. His interest and personal involvement in assisting medical schools in West Africa have done more for the maintenance of British prestige overseas than many officially sponsored programmes. His conviction that the improvement of health in developing countries depends on the wider spread of intermediate technology, and on training medical auxiliaries, has now gained general acceptance in Africa. With the help of the Overseas Development Administration he set up the International Museum Exchange - an imaginative idea for providing teaching material in pathology in countries where autopsies are rare - and the Overseas Audiovisual Aid scheme in which teaching tapes were made for medical schools all over the world. He also instituted the Overseas Medical Laboratory Technician Tutor Courses in which technicians from many countries were trained to teach. His interest in medical education spanned grammar schools, technical institutes, university medicine and the effective and practical training of the initially unskilled laboratory worker, both here and overseas. He was an enthusiastic and popular teacher of undergraduates, always keen to develop new techniques, such as television, and firmly believing in a broadly based education and the apprenticeship form of medical training. He devoted himself to all aspects of students’ welfare, from encouraging sports to organizing faster reading courses, and he was both liked and respected by them. Overseas technicians, students and postgraduates always had his special welcome and attention, both professionally and socially. He had a map with clusters of pins all over the tropics, showing where his trainees had returned home. In all these places he was always welcome as lecturer or examiner.

Hill also played a large part in the development of diagnostic cytology as a specialty in Britain. He saw its importance when few centres provided a cytodiagnostic service. It was largely owing to his enthusiasm that special training centres were set up in different parts of the country, which made possible the present cervical smear screening service. He was at one time chairman and then president of the British Society of Clinical Cytology.

Kenneth Hill’s work for the third world was fittingly crowned when in 1971 the Government of Nigeria invited him to accept the Vice-Chancellorship of the University of Benin. It was a particularly appropriate appointment for the new university was about to establish a medical school and it was with great sadness that he was forced to resign because of ill health after only four months in Benin. He had accepted this appointment for two years on leave of absence, intending to return to London in 1974. He was especially delighted to be elected chairman of the Medical Committee of the Royal Free Hospital, as this was recognition by his colleagues of his talents as a chairman and as a processor of piles of documents. His ideas for training in medicine and the professions supplementary to medicine are bound to have an impact for good for many years to come.

In 1938 he married Elsie Winifred Mary, daughter of Sydney Herbert Wade, a carpenter, and they had a son and a daughter. Elsie Hill’s quiet charm, thoughtfulness and practical generosity, and her interest in her husband’s chosen profession, provided continuing support and brought much to the new university during Kenneth Hill’s brief period of tenure.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
V Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1973, 1, 555, 684; Lancet, 1973, 1, 497; Times, 24 Feb 1973]

(Volume VI, page 239)

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