Lives of the fellows

Ernest Laurence (Sir) Kennaway

b.23 May 1881 d.1 January 1958
Kt (1947) BA Oxon (1903) BM BCh Oxon (1907) DM Oxon (1911) DSc Lond (1915) *FRCP (1937) FRS (1941)

It takes great courage to accept a static disability, but still greater courage to meet and defeat the frustrations of one that increases steadily. This Ernest Kennaway did during his last thirty years, accommodating himself to the trembling hands, shuffling gait and bent back of Parkinson’s disease to such effect that his researches into the causation of cancer brought him international acclaim. Suffering as he did from a childhood illness that demanded an open-air life, he used to develop his powers of concentration by an interest in natural science.

From his native Exeter where his father, Laurence James Kennaway, was a respected citizen, and his grandfather, twice Mayor, was remembered for his valuable work during the 1832 cholera epidemic, he went up with an open scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford, and then to the Middlesex Hospital with a University scholarship. While at Guy’s Hospital as a demonstrator in physiology from 1920 to 1914, he held a Hulme scholarship at Brasenose College and a Radcliffe travelling fellowship. For the next seven years he was in charge of the department of clinical pathology in the new Bland-Sutton Institute, but a growing involvement in the teaching of students made him join the staff of the Research Institute of the Cancer (Free), later the Royal Marsden Hospital, of which he became director from 1931 to 1946. From then until his death he worked in the pathological department of St. Bartholomew’s.

To the end, with his massive brow and penetrating eyes behind steel rimmed spectacles, he remained a rather forbidding figure, but his fortitude and singleness of purpose, his infectious enthusiasm and his readiness to explain in lucid terms the most abstruse of his findings brought the admiring humility of every colleague and assistant. They saw that his caustic humour and his growing suspicion of strangers stemmed from an intense dislike of shams and his refusal to spend valuable time on the wrangles of committees and the propaganda of open discussions.

Encouraged and supported by Nina Marrion Derry, whom he had married in 1920, he demonstrated that the active carcinogenic constituents of tar were the polycyclic condensed hydrocarbons, and so bridged the gap between the earlier researches of Yamagiwa and Ichkawa in Japan and the development of our knowledge of the sterols in the 1930’s.

Inevitably he gathered honours at home and abroad, among them the Baly medal of the College in 1937, the fellowship of the Royal Society and its Royal medal in 1941, an honorary fellowship of New College, Oxford, in 1942, and a knighthood in 1947. He was elected an honorary member of the American Association for Cancer Research in 1947, and an honorary foreign member of the Academy of Medicine of Belgium in 1954. In 1950 he was given the Osier memorial medal.

Richard R Trail

[Biogr. Mem. toy. Soc., 1958, 4, 139-54 (p), bibl.; Brit.med.J., 1958,1, 104-06 (p), 405; J.Path.Bact., 1959, 78, 593-606 (p), bibl.; Lancet, 1958, 1, 120-10 (p), 326; Nature (Lond.), 1958, 181, 320; Times, 2, 9, 13 Jan. 1958.]

(Volume V, page 225)

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