Lives of the fellows

Philip Davis Marsden

b.7 January 1933 d.4 October 1997
OBE(1990) MB BS Lond(1956) DTM&H(1958) DAP&E(1958) MRCP Edin(1959) MRCP(1960) MD(1965) FRCP Edin(1971) FRCP(1979)

Philip's love of entomology led him into tropical medicine. His collection of butterflies while at Latymer Grammar School in Enfield was worthy of a place in the national archive. He trained in medicine at University College Hospital, London, and entered tropical medicine via the Dreadnought Seaman’s Hospital, Greenwich, which at that time still looked after sailors that had returned from the tropics. In 1959 he joined Alan Woodruff’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.602] department of clinical tropical medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and worked there and at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases before being seconded to the MRC laboratories in the Gambia in 1960, followed by the medical unit at Mulago Hospital, Kampala, Uganda in 1962. Here he studied tropical splenomegaly syndrome for which he later developed an animal model. From 1964 to 1966 he taught and researched at the Cornell Medical Centre, New York, and he remained a visiting professor there for the rest of his life.

Philip was also fascinated by how organisms infected man and caused disease. Back in London he turned his attention to Trypanosoma cruzi and reduviid bugs, the cause of Chagas disease in South America. He paid his first visit to Brazil in 1967 and was hooked. He moved quickly into the field, studying risk factors for the transmission of Chagas disease, even once totally demolishing a house in order to count the number of bugs it contained. His career stood at a cross-roads. Despite the considerable academic distinction he had achieved here and in the US, he chose to settle in Brazil and work on the neglected diseases that so afflicted the poor and had no satisfactory treatment. This work was to satisfy him emotionally as well as academically.

Brazil embraced him as her own. He was affectionately known throughout Latin America as ‘Felipe’ and was renowned for his intellect and eccentricity, enlivening local and international meetings with his outrageous gear, sharp intellect and wit. In Brazil he became progressively impressed by the suffering of patients with mucosal leishmaniasis and he began to turn his broad approach to their problems too and to carry their banner. His inquisitive brain asked innumerable and often outrageous questions that produced a host of collaborators. His four hundred original publications list over a hundred and fifty authors, many of them postgraduate students from Brazil and other South American countries. He saw himself as an educator and provocateur and over the years he strengthened enormously the cadre and calibre of clinical parasitology in South America. This was his greatest achievement. His direct approach, his intolerance of respectability and his capacity to share in the life of his patients were an inspiration to all. His vigour and enthusiasm helped to encourage the Wellcome Trust’s interest in tropical medicine and to motivate the Wellcome Harvard London scheme which seconded young scientists to the tropics and yielded high quality research.

He was honoured with the Chalmers medal of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and later its prestigious honorary fellowship. He was Heath Clark lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1982, where he retained an honorary senior lectureship till the end of his life. In 1987 he nearly died in a disastrous road accident in Brasilia, surviving through the devotion of his second wife, Marinha. Despite pain and declining physical strength his zest for life remained, interrupted by periods of profound despair. In the summer of 1997 he suffered a stroke, followed by a perforated peptic ulcer which led him through pain to peace.

Anthony Bryceson

[Brit.med.J., 1998,316,633; The Guardian, 10 Nov 1997]

(Volume X, page 330)

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