Lives of the fellows

Nicholas Henry Martin

b.26 October 1906 d.13 December 1981
BSc Durh(1928) MRCS LRCP(1936) MB BCh Oxon(1937) MA(1938) MRCP(1939) FRCP(1959)

Nicholas Henry Martin was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, the son of William Martin, also a physician, and his wife Ellen Renfree, daughter of Nicholas Henry Holman, a company director. He was educated at Sedbergh, going on to the University of Durham, where he graduated with honours in chemistry. As a Phillip Buckle travelling fellow he then went to Munich and Berlin for postgraduate studies. He was awarded the diploma of Imperial College and became a fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry in 1930. In 1931 he went up to Oxford to study medicine under Sherrington and Peters. He qualified with the Conjoint in 1936, taking his BM BCh Oxon in 1937. He took his membership of the College in 1939, and was appointed pathologist in the Bland-Sutton Institute that same year.

During the second world war he served as a major in the RAMC, seeing active service in France and Africa. He was assistant director of pathology to the 21st Army Group and was twice mentioned in despatches. On demobilization he returned to the Bland-Sutton Institute, but was released to UNRRA as deputy consultant in nutrition to the European Zone. He wrote numerous papers on protein structure and protein dyscrasias.

Awarded a Rockefeller fellowship, he studied at Harvard Medical School under Janeway and Cohn. Returning to England in 1947 he became head of the department of chemical pathology at St George’s Hospital, London, and before long he had gathered round him a small but active group of young biochemists, working on the clinical applications of the rapidly developing technologies of ultracentrifugation and electrophoresis in the study of the plasma proteins. As the years passed he was faced with the problem of automation in the clinical laboratories, and this was something he found hard to contemplate, since he believed strongly that the technical staff should remain experts at the old manual procedures, and not become dependent on machines. He decided to implement the change to automation slowly, leaving the major changeover to his successor, and this probably led him to retire a little early. He devoted much of his time thereafter to his work for the Association of Clinical Pathologists, of which he became president, and for the newly founded College of Pathologists. He was a member of the original council of the latter, taking an active part in the construction of the examinations in chemical pathology. He was also a member of the Lister Institute.

Nick’s striking appearance and lively personality, combined with a somewhat eccentric manner, soon made him one of the best known and most popular members of St George’s staff. Everyone called him Nicky, except his old Oxford and Middlesex Hospital friends who persisted with his student nickname of Sharky. This rather uncomplimentary sobriquet presumably was owed to his flashing white teeth, in a dark countenance.

He married Ursula, daughter of William Brodie, in 1948, and they had two sons. In his leisure time he enjoyed the pleasures of his lovely house and garden, and his holidays in Cornwall, where he spent most of his time after his retirement. He was keen on sailing and climbing, so far as hip trouble allowed before successful operation, and devoted much time to growing azaleas.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

[Lancet, 1982, 1, 118]

(Volume VII, page 384)

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