Lives of the fellows

William Henry Jopling

b.2 March 1911 d.21 August 1997
MRCS LRCP(1936) DTM&H(1948) MRCP Edin(1949) MRCP(1954) FRCP Edin(1961) FRCP(1972)

William Jopling - widely known for his work on leprosy - was born at Pozzuoli, near Naples, Italy. His father, Thomas Atkinson Jopling, was an accountant, and his mother, Louise Ellen, was the daughter of an insurance agent, Daniel Henry Franks. Following school (at Norman Court, New Barnet and Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Barnet), he entered St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School - graduating in 1936.

Following house appointments at his teaching hospital (1936 to 1937) he served briefly in the Blue Funnel Shipping Line - undertaking a five month voyage to the Far East. Jopling then became a government medical officer in the Southern Rhodesia Medical Service - a post which gave him a broad basis for his future career in tropical medicine. Between 1941 and 1946 he was a medical officer in the Southern Rhodesia Medical Corps. Following his return to London he pursued the specialty of tropical medicine - passing the diploma in tropical medicine in 1948 and the membership examination of the Edinburgh College in 1949. Between August 1949 and July 1950 Jopling served as RMO at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases (HTD); he was subsequently appointed senior registrar, a post which he held from July 1950 until July 1955; he was thus a junior member of the staff of that hospital during the removal from 23 Devonshire Street to 4 St Pancras Way in 1951, and it was during this employment that he became a member of the London College. He was subsequently elected FRCP (Edinburgh) in 1961 and FRCP (London) in 1972.

Between 1950 and 1970 (when it finally closed) Jopling was appointed to run the Jordan Hospital, Earlswood, Surrey - one of the last hospitals in England to specialize in leprosy. In the early 1950s there were fears that immigration into Britain would bring a deluge of leprosy cases - which it later transpired was not to be the case. In addition he served as SHMO at the HTD between 1955 and 1963 - when he was appointed consultant leprologist, a post he held until his retirement in 1976. He also held the posts of consultant in tropical dermatology at St John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin (from 1965) and honorary physician in tropical medicine to St Luke’s Hospital for the Clergy.

The care of patients suffering from leprosy was undoubtedly William Jopling’s major contribution to medicine. He is best remembered for his joint work with D S Ridley which led to the publication between 1962 and 1966 of the Ridley-Jopling classification (on clinical-pathological grounds) of the various presentations (five major groupings) of leprosy. As an overdue accolade, the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene awarded him (jointly with D S Ridley) their prestigious Sir Rickard Christophers Medal in 1994. As well as numerous publications on the disease, he attended many conferences on the subject (he was a member of the International Leprosy Association) - both nationally and internationally. It also fell to him to confirm odontological/cranial abnormalities allowing a confident diagnosis of Mycobacterium leprae to be made on the disinterred remains of Robert the Bruce of Scotland.

Jopling’s writing was solely confined to tropical medicine (especially leprosy). Amongst his contributions were: (jointly with Sir Philip Manson-Bahr [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.328]) Differential diagnosis of tropical diseases (Leverkusen, Germany, Fardenfabriken Bayer, 1959), The treatment of tropical diseases (Bristol, John Wright & Sons, 1960) and his Handbook of leprosy (London, Heineman Medical, 1971).

Jopling married (first) Mary Daphne, daughter of Reginald George Richard Harvey - an insurance actuary - in 1938, by whom he had three sons and one daughter. This partnership was dissolved and he married for a second time; however, his wife predeceased him.

In his earlier days he had been a notable athlete. He was captain of the St Bartholomew’s Hospital Athletic Club and winner of the 440 yards in the Inter-Hospital Competition; he represented London University in the latter event. Jopling was a founder-member of the Old Elizabethan’s Rugby Club - now the Barnet Elizabethans. Latterly, he became an accomplished naturalist, angler and musician, composing several piano pieces.

William Jopling was a life-long socialist and humanist (a vigorous campaigner for nuclear disarmament). He had an impressive presence; tall and softly spoken he had a genial disposition and an ever-present smile. He was plagued by ill-health in his latter years; severe visual impairment probably disturbed him most, but he also suffered from myocardial ischaemia and a colorectal carcinoma - which ultimately led to his death.

G C Cook

[Brit.med.J., 1997,315,1382]

(Volume X, page 268)

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