Lives of the fellows

Austin William Drevar Leishman

b.17 June 1907 d.11 March 1978
BA Oxon(1929) BM BCh(1932) MRCS LRCP(1932) MRCP(1935) DM(1937) MA(1947) FRCP(1950)

William Leishman came from a distinguished medical family. His grandfather was regius professor of midwifery in the University of Glasgow. His father, Sir William Boog Leishman KCB, KCMG, CB was an FRS and FRCP and became director general of the Army Medical Service. His mother, Maud Elizabeth Gunter, was the daughter of a regular Army colonel who lived in Cardiff.

William Leishman was educated at Westminster School and University College Oxford, where he was a Theodore Williams scholar (physiology) and obtained a second class honours BA in 1929 in physiology. He trained in clinical medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London and graduated in 1932. He was house physician to Lord Horder, and in 1935 resident physician at Ruthin Castle, North Wales. From 1935 to 1938 he was chief assistant at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, working for Lord Horder and Geoffrey Evans. In 1938 he entered medical partnership in Stratford-on-Avon, and was honorary physician at Stratford-on-Avon General Hospital.

He was mobilized in 1939 in the Territorial Army, joined the 7th General Hospital as medical specialist and went to France with the British Expeditionary Force. In 1941 he was appointed to the Middle East Forces, where he served in Crete, from where he was one of the last to escape carrying his beloved flute and a photograph of his wife. He later served in Palestine, and in 1942 became officer in charge of a medical division in India. In 1944 he was appointed assistant consulting physician GHQ India and ADMS (clinical research), responsible for organization and coordination of research in India. He made a tour of German medical centres in 1945 on behalf of British Intelligence.

His service in the Army reawakened his interest in hospital medicine, and on demobilization in 1946 he was appointed first assistant to Edward (later Sir) Wayne at the Sheffield Royal Infirmary. In 1946 he was appointed honorary physician to the Sheffield Royal Infirmary and the Doncaster Gate Hospital, Rotherham. He became honorary clinical lecturer in medicine in the University of Sheffield, and he founded the first clinic in Sheffield for the study of hypertension, and was able to show that treatment of hypertension would prolong life and diminish the risk of strokes.

His publications consisted of an original paper on ‘Clinical Diagnosis of Polyarteritis Nodosa’, in the Lancet 1937 and must have been one of the first ever published on this subject. He also published papers on his experiences of military medicine in India, Lancet 1944 and Lancet 1945.

His most important work however was a series of papers based on his meticulous note keeping and follow-up clinics for hypertension. These included: ‘Hypertension treated and untreated’ BMJ 1959, and ‘Merits of reducing blood pressure’ Lancet 1963, and numerous others which were recognized internationally.

Leishman was a physician of the old school, who combined personal charm and courteous manners with kindness and complete integrity. His upright military figure and careful dress set an example to his students, from whom he demanded a high standard. Despite suffering from angina for many years, he worked uncomplainingly until he retired in 1973 to his old Derbyshire farmhouse in the village of Hathersage.

He was a skilled musician who played the flute for many years with the Sheffield Philharmonic orchestra. When an anaesthetic lip prevented him from playing the flute it is characteristic of his personality that he learned to play the oboe, and continued to have lessons until his death.

In June 1938 he married Elizabeth Oldfield, the daughter of Carlton Oldfield a gynaecologist and the sister of an undergraduate friend who himself became a consultant surgeon in Leeds. Elizabeth and William were a perfect team. After his retirement they played golf and walked the Derbyshire moors in all weathers. He died suddenly when out shopping with her.

The years of his retirement were made pleasurable by watching the four children of his only daughter, Diana, grow up. William Leishman was a kind, gentle, humble man with style, an unforgettable figure almost of a bygone age.

IB Sneddon

[Brit.med.J., 1978, 1, 926; Lancet, 1978, 1, 782]

(Volume VII, page 334)

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