Lives of the fellows

Ronald Stanley Illingworth

b.1 October 1909 d.4 June 1990
MRCS LRCP(1934) MB ChB Leeds(1934) MD(1937) MRCP(1937) DPH(1938) DCH(1938) FRCP(1947)

Ronald Illingworth was a fervent Yorkshireman and a paediatrician of wide renown. He was also a gifted writer whose books sold in quantities that many a professional author might envy, and which influenced many families.

He was born in Harrogate where his father practised as an architect. His early education was at Clifton House School from where he gained a scholarship to Bradford Grammar School, followed by Leeds University for medical studies. Even in these formative years he showed strong traits which persisted throughout his life - a rigorous attention to time, a love of the open air and especially of mountain scenery, and an intense pursuit of interests such as photography and philately. His skill with a camera provided useful income while still a student and led to recognition by the Royal Photographic Society as an associate in 1935 and a fellow of the Society the following year. His school contemporaries said he was always interested in children so it is not surprising that after qualification he turned to the developing specialty of paediatrics.

Postgraduate studies followed rapidly, with a Nuffield research studentship in Oxford and, in 1939, the award of a Rockefeller research fellowship - which he took up in 1946. During the intervening five years, at the time of the second world war, he served with the Middle East Forces as a lieutenant colonel and was officer in charge of medical divisions in several military hospitals.

The postwar Rockefeller fellowship was spent with Arnold Gesell at Yale University. Illingworth became an ardent advocate of Gesell’s approach to child development, which he considered to be the most appropriate for paediatricians, and he practised and taught it all his professional life. There were occasions when he had to defend his adherence to Gesell’s teaching and he did so with a firmness that was typical of the man - issues were considered and an opinion formed and thereafter maintained steadfastly.

On return to the UK he had a brief spell as first assistant to the professor of paediatrics at Great Ormond Street in London, and in 1947 was appointed to the first chair of child health in Sheffield. In the same year he married another paediatician, Cynthia Redhead. It was a very happy marriage and he was greatly helped by his wife, together they made a close and powerful unit, particularly as their own three children developed.

At that time Sheffield paediatrics needed a great boost - and received it. Through hard work, by the example of good clinical practice, by stimulation of research, and by attracting first-rate colleagues and staff, Ronald Illingworth created a department which became known throughout the world. Common sense and humanity prevailed in his clinical work: the problems of children were to be studied and their needs met; parents needed help to understand and love their children; children’s wards should be untidy, with play opportunities, and parents encouraged to be with their children. Illingworth supported and contributed to many developments in paediatrics, including the treatment of rheumatic fever and tuberculosis.

His efforts were recognized by awards and honorary degrees including the 1974 Medal of the University of Turku, Finland; the Aldrich award of the American Academy of Pediatrics; the Spence medal of the British Paediatric Association and the Dawson Williams prize of the British Medical Association. He was awarded honorary degrees by Bagdad, Sheffield and Leeds. In 1982 he was also made a Freeman of the City of Sheffield. Members of his department achieved posts of distinction worldwide and several became professors of paediatrics. His clinical experience and clear, logical mind brought him requests to serve on committees from the Medical Research Council and the Medical Defence Union.

Ronald Illingworth placed great emphasis on the written word and was able to quote innumerable references to support his arguments. Since he possessed a fluent pen he published some 600 articles and numerous books. Most of his books have been translated into many languages, several of them into Japanese and Farsi. The normal child ..., London, J&A Churchill, 1953, the best known of some 14 books, went into nine editions. Other bestsellers included Babies and young children ..., London, J&A Churchill, 1954, written jointly with his wife Cynthia, who also collaborated with him in Lessons from childhood ..., Baltimore, Williams and Wilkins, 1966. Also Common ailments in babies London, BMA, 1959; The development of the infant and young child ..., Edinburgh, Livingstone, 1960; The normal schoolchild ..., London, Heinemann, 1964; Treatment of the child at home Oxford, Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1967 and Common symptoms of disease in children Oxford, Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1967.

Ronald Illingworth was forceful and direct, but never devious. He was sincere and dependable. He always sought to achieve his goal and paid little attention to trivia along the way and, in consequence, seemed at times to be brusque and somewhat severe. Socially he was reserved but to those who knew him well he was caring and sensitive. These latter qualities came to the fore in his married life, which meant much to him. He and his wife had three children - Andrea, Robin and Corinne, all of whom have followed the family medical tradition.

His love of mountains continued to the end and it was while on holiday in Bergen, Norway, that he died in his sleep. Frank Harris gave the address at a service of thanksgiving for Ronald’s life, which was held in the Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul, Sheffield.

K S Holt

[Brit.med.J..1990,300,1644; The Times, .21 June 1990; The Independent, 9 June 1990; The Guardian, 9 June 1990; The Daily Telegraph, 21 June 1990; J.med.Defence Union, Winter 1990,p.50;vol.l,l,Spring 1985]

(Volume IX, page 259)

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