Lives of the fellows

William d'Auvergne (Sir) Maycock

b.4 February 1911 d.19 February 1987
Kt(l978) CBE(1970) MBE(1945) LVO formerly MVO(1961) MD McGill(1935) MRCS LRCP(1935) FRCPath(1963) MRCP(1967) FRCP(1972)

When the second world war began William (Bill) Maycock had the prospect of a distinguished career in physiological and pathological research. He joined the RAMC on the first day of the war, 3 Septemebr 1939, and completed his military service, with the rank of colonel, only at the end of November 1945. Throughout more than six years he contributed greatly, both as a scientist and administrator, to the efficiency and safety of the Army blood transfusion service on all fronts. For the rest of his professional life Bill was recognized as an international authority on blood transfusion and blood products.

Born in London, Bill was the second son of William Perren Maycock MIEE and his wife Florence Marion, née Hart. His father, born in 1866 and the author of several textbooks, was a consulting electrical engineer who had entered this field in the last decade of the nineteenth century, an exciting time when the application of electrical energy to domestic and manufacturing processes, and to transport and communication, was growing dramatically: he died in 1918, shortly before the introduction of wireless broadcasting for entertainment, a development he had foreseen in his writings during the first decade of this century. Bill’s father had been one of ten children, of whom four were boys, only one of whom lived almost to the psalmist’s allotted span; he himself died of cancer of the oesophagus at the age of 52; a second at age 29 from cholera in Calcutta; and another died of multiple sclerosis at 42. By contrast, the sisters reached ages between 72 and 94.

Bill’s paternal grandfather was ‘country manager’ of the London Joint Stock Bank, and one of his great-grandfathers was George Perren, a well known singer in the third quarter of the nineteenth century who had trained at the Scala, Milan, and took some part in the formation of the English Opera Company. No musical talent descended to Bill or to his brother, an architect. Bill’s maternal grandfather was a pharmacist, but his mother was an only child and Bill did not know any members of her family, who came from Sussex. His father’s family came from the village of Wellesbourne in Warwickshire, where they were recorded in the early 1600s, and where one member had been vicar of a neighbouring village.

Bill showed early promise. He was a senior King’s Scholar at The King’s School, Canterbury, and became a member of the rugby XV, captain of boats, and captain of the school, before winning a school-leaving Lord Milner memorial exhibition to any university of his choice. Since his mother and brother were living in Montreal, he chose McGill University, where he studied medicine between 1929-35, gaining a Birks scholarship, the Francis J Williams fellowship in clinical medicine, the Lieutenant Governor’s bronze medal in pharmacology, the Sutherland gold medal in biochemistry and, on graduation, the Holmes gold medal. He turned at once to pathology, as demonstrator at McGill and house pathologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital, 1935-36. From 1936-39 Bill was a Leverhulme Scholar at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, also attending the National Institute for Medical Research as a visiting worker. He published two papers with Lindor Brown on vascular reactions in the sympathectomized cat, and had just been appointed to the physiology department at St Thomas’s when war was declared. Bill soon found himself in France in charge, first of a mobile blood transfusion unit and then as second in command of a short-lived blood transfusion and surgical research laboratory. On return to England in 1940 he joined L E H Whitby, later Sir Lionel [Munk's Roll, Vol. V,p.444], at the Army Blood Supply Depot, Bristol, and was second in command from 1942-45, when he took over command. He remained a specialist in pathology.

During the war years there were many crises in supplies and occasional fierce periods of tension and controversy over the appropriate use of blood and plasma, and in regard to problems of compatibility - including the newly discovered rhesus factor - and transmission of infections, especially hepatitis. Throughout, to all those concerned with transfusion and resuscitation on world-scattered British Army fronts, Bill never ceased to be a trusted, respected and much loved colleague.

In 1946 Bill joined the Lister Institute, and from 1949-78 was either superintendent of the Institute’s laboratories in Elstree, or head and director of the Blood Products laboratory. Throughout the same period he was a consultant in blood transfusion to the Ministry (later Department) of Health, and honorary consultant in blood transfusion and resuscitation to the War Office, later the Ministry of Defence. He was also a recognized teacher of pathology in the University of London and was president of the British Society for Haematology.

The many problems to which Bill turned an expert, acute, disciplined and practical mind included the used of plasma substitutes, the preparation of anti-D immunoglobulin for clinical use, the prevention of post-transfusion hepatitis, detection of hepatitis B surface antigen and its antibody, the danger of varicella to immunosuppressed patients, the purity of antihaemophilic factor, criteria of suitability for blood donation, and higher training in haematology. Bill never played the role of an ‘authority’; modesty and a considerable sense of fun tended to conceal the real depth of his knowledge.

On leave from France at the beginning of 1940, Bill married Muriel Macdonald of Toronto, who had joined up with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) at the outbreak of war and who was a driver at the Army Blood Supply Depot. From a particularly close and happy marriage came two sons, one of whom became a road engineer and the other a solicitor.

In 1976 Bill was diagnosed to be suffering from muscular dystrophy. Physically it became a frustrating handicap, but mentally he met the challenge with stylish courage and humour. He refused to regard himself as less than fully active in mind and body, and maintained all his normal interests in medical science, local history, and the cultivation of plants - except that actual work in the garden was for others.

Bill was a slight, always handsome man, invariably courteous, well-mannered almost to the point of old fashion, and quietly spoken except for delightful eruptions of uproarious laughter.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme

[Brit.med.J., 1987,294,979; Lancet, 1987,1,818]

(Volume VIII, page 325)

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