Lives of the fellows

Frank David Kitchin

b.30 January 1924 d.10 September 1990
MB ChB Liverp(1947) MRCP(1954) MD(1959) FRCP(1974)

Frank David Kitchin was born in Nottingham, the son of Barnsdale Kitchin, mechanical engineer, and Evelyn Gertrude née Stevenson, the daughter of a businessman.

David Kitchin (he was never known as Frank) received his early education at Liverpool College before proceeding to the University of Liverpool to study medicine. After graduation, his first post was as house surgeon at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary. He then entered the Navy as a member of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1948, where he served first in a flotilla of frigates and later as second in command at the Royal Dockyard Portsmouth. His service in the Navy suited Kitchin well for since his schooldays he had been a keen and intrepid sailor.

After two enjoyable years in the Navy he returned to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary where, in addition to further clinical training, he undertook a two-year fellowship with H L Sheehan [Munk s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.455] in the department of pathology, where his interest in research was awakened.

Although his experience in the department of pathology was scientifically invigorating, he was determined to pursue a career in academic clinical medicine. After obtaining his MRCP in 1954 he became interested in medical genetics and worked with Sir Cyril Clarke, then professor of medicine and chief of the Nuffield unit of medical genetics in Liverpool, later to be president of the College from 1972-77.

During this period the department was actively pursuing research in all aspects of medical genetics as well as biochemical polymorphisms. In this congenial and stimulating atmosphere Kitchin studied the relationship between thyroid disease and phenylthiocarbamide (PTC), later to be the subject of his MD thesis.

In 1963 he joined the department of human genetics at the Rockefeller University and continued his studies on genetic polymorphisms with particular attention to the Group Specific Component (Gc) of human serum, later identified as the vitamin D binding protein. Kitchin undertook studies to determine the gene frequency in a variety of world populations. During these studies, in association with Hartwig Cleve, together they uncovered in Germany a new genetic variant which they named Gc Darmstadt.

He married Gail Arnold in 1965 and they had two children, Jennifer and Jonathan. Sadly, the marriage was eventually dissolved.

In 1966 he joined the faculty of medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, where in 1974 he became an associate professor of clinical medicine. At Columbia he became immersed in the genetics of retinoblastoma and made a number of important clinical and genetic contributions to this, and to other malignant diseases of the eye.

In 1979 he was appointed clinical associate professor of clinical medicine and clinical ophthalmology at Cornell University medical college, where he continued his work on tumours of the eye. Although Kitchin’s work was now clinical rather than experimental he published more than a dozen papers and remained active until he died, suddenly, in 1990. At the time of his death he was director of occupational health.

As a young man, David excelled in all field sports. He was a superb squash player and obtained a number of school records. In 1945 he competed in the Olympic trials for England in field hockey.

David’s friendly, gentle, rather shy nature endeared him to all his patients and he always insisted that clinical responsibility should take precedence over personal research. As a result, his research suffered but there are countless patients with retinoblastoma - as well as their families - who were greatly benefited and encouraged by his ever sensitive, thoughtful caring advice. He greatly enjoyed teaching general medicine to medical students and, in the Oslerian tradition, emphasized clinical excellence and frugal laboratory investigation. David Kitchin was a good doctor and that was what, above all else, he wanted to be.

A G Bearn

[New York Times, 14 Sept 1990; Greenwich Time, 14 Sept 1990]

(Volume IX, page 296)

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