Lives of the fellows

Walter Herman Hodgson Merivale

b.30 August 1917 d.10 February 1971
MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1940) MRCP(1942) FRCP(1964) FRCPath(1964)

Walter Merivale was born in Gillingham, the son of a mining engineer. He was educated at Westminster School and entered St. Thomas’s Hospital as a medical student. He qualified in 1939. In 1940, he was rejected for service in the Royal Air Force on account of bad eyesight, but he subsequently volunteered for the Royal Army Medical Corps and was commissioned in 1942. He served in Normandy during the invasion and, later, in India as a pathologist; he made blood transfusion and the problems of fluid and electrolyte replacement his special interest. In 1945, he was promoted Major and commanded the Pathological Laboratory, Northern Command, at Catterick, where he became increasingly interested in clinical chemistry.

In 1947, Merivale was appointed pathologist at Newcastle General Hospital. Then, in 1948, he was appointed assistant to the director of clinical pathology at Guy’s Hospital. The director was F.A. Knott, perhaps one of the last clinical pathologists who made the whole subject his realm. Merivale became University Reader in 1953 and, when Knott retired in 1955, succeeded him as Clinical Pathologist to the Hospital and Director of the Department. At that time, the separation of the pathological services of Hospital and School was largely accomplished, so that the academic departments of Bacteriology and Chemical Pathology took little part in the day to day service of the Hospital; thus, the burden of increasing demands brought about by the expansion of the biochemical content of clinical medicine fell on Merivale’s broad, sustaining shoulders.

During the twenty years he spent at Guy’s, Merivale made a great contribution to the life of the Hospital and School, not only through his skill and erudition, but also because of exceptional kindness and exemplary energy. He served the Hospital well; he was always ready to accept any extra duties and he took a lively, good humoured and intelligent part in the many problems which beset Guy’s during its major rebuilding. In 1964, he was elected a Fellow of the College, and in the same year was made a Founder Fellow of the College of Pathologists. As time passed, his interests turned from chemical pathology to bacteriology and virology. For a long time, Merivale had directed, with able lieutenants, the several divisions of clinical pathology, though excluding haematology, until it became clear that a more formal separation was necessary. Not long before he died, he became Director of the newly constituted Department of Clinical Bacteriology and Virology, leaving clinical chemistry aside.

These details of his career in no way convey the quality of the man: big, broad, handsome, with huge eyebrows and sometimes a reddish beard. His was a familiar appearance and manner as, a somewhat thespian figure, he moved cheerfully across the Park at Guy’s. His patience and gentleness did not entirely conceal firm convictions and strong views on events and colleagues, expressed nevertheless with a disarming chuckle. He was immensely respected by those who worked for him, thoughtful of his technical staff, helpful to students and, indeed, to anyone who sought his aid. He lived amply and created a sense of exuberance in all he did. His interests were wide: he was fond of the classics, of music and the stage, so that opera was a special distraction for him. He delighted in the sea and was a keen yachtsman: the motor accident from which he died at the age of fifty-three tragically occurred as he was on the way to his boat.

Merivale was twice married and had two children by each wife.

WN Mann

[Brit.med.J., 1971, 1, 463; Lancet, 1971, 1, 502; Guy's Hosp. Gaz., 1971, 85, 87-88]

(Volume VI, page 336)

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