Lives of the fellows

Robin Daniel Lawrence

b.18 November 1892 d.11 August 1968
MB ChB Aberd(1916) MD(1922) MRCP(1927) FRCP(1932) LLD Toronto(1964)

Robin Lawrence was born in Aberdeen, the son of Thomas Lawrence, a brush manufacturer, and of Margaret Daniel Smith whose father was a harbour engineer. He graduated with honours at Aberdeen University and immediately joined the RAMC, serving in India until the end of the war.

In 1919 he started his life-long association with King’s College Hospital where he was casualty officer in 1921, house surgeon in 1923 and biochemist from 1923 to 1929.

His ambition was to become a surgeon and, while practising a mastoid operation in the post-mortem room, he received an injury to his eye from a splinter of bone; subsequent acute infection led to the discovery of glycosuria and the diagnosis of diabetes. Faced with what then appeared to be certain death in a matter of a year or two at most, Lawrence went into general practice in Florence in order to spare his family and friends the distress of witnessing his death; he also wished to die in beautiful surroundings.

In 1923, in response to a telegram from G.A. Harrison, Lawrence drove across Europe and reached King’s College Hospital in a state of severe ketosis on May 29th 1923. An excellent response to the recently discovered insulin was followed by his appointment as a biochemist to the hospital, and marked the beginning of his career in the field of diabetes. He built up the diabetic clinic at King’s which later became the best known in England. He was appointed Physician to King’s College Hospital in 1939.

He wrote many scientific articles on diabetes but by far his best known contribution was The Diabetic Life, first published in 1925; translated into many languages, the 16th edition was published in 1960. In recognition of this achievement Lawrence was awarded the Fothergillian Gold Medal of the Medical Society of London in 1956. He was Oliver-Sharpey lecturer of the College in 1946 and in the same year received the Banting Medal.

Among his many contributions to the welfare of diabetics was the founding of the British Diabetic Association and the International Diabetic Federation, in both of which he played a leading part and of which he became President.

Both in his teaching and writing Lawrence aimed at simplicity of thought and expression; he sometimes under-rated the intelligence of his audience! He was a most successful beggar in the cause of diabetes and a great believer in spending capital. Although an extrovert, some thought an exhibitionist, his scientific modesty made him unwilling to do more by way of correcting his juniors than to suggest a better alternative. He was good at all ball games, but his chief interests outside medicine were music and dry fly fishing; he always said that Beethoven was one of the major influences in his life.

In 1929 he married Anna Batson, daughter of Thomas Batson MA, a Master at Rossall School. They had three sons, two of whom became doctors. Robin Lawrence died in London ten years after suffering a severe hemiplegia.

WG Oakley

[Brit.med.J., 1968, 3, 621 & 4, 128; Lancet, 1968, 2, 579 & 782; Times, 29 Aug & 1 & 10 Sept 1960; Evening Express, 29 Aug 1968; The Press and Journal, Aberdeen, 29 Aug 1968]

(Volume VI, page 275)

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