Lives of the fellows

Sheilagh Mary Cecilia Murray

b.23 May 1914 d.27 April 1984
MB BS Durh(1937) MD(1956) FRCPath(1963) MRCP(1966) FRCP(1976)

Sheilagh Murray came from a medical family in north west Durham. Her father was the last of the archetypal family doctors; immaculate blue velour coat with a freshly picked buttonhole, bowler hat, leather gloves, spats, a little brown bag, and of course chauffeur driven. Four out of five children became doctors; ranging from ‘a Man from the Ministry’ to a GP in the ‘Outback’. The fifth married a doctor.

Sheilagh qualified in 1937 (the youngest that year) and served in the RAF throughout the war. She married an RAF pilot, but when she returned to civilian life was a widow with two young children. With such responsibilities, Sheilagh sought a job in the newly formed National Transfusion Service and on her first day had to have explained the difference between the ABO Groups and the Oxford Group. But within months she became the local authority on all blood group serology and, in particular, developed an interest in haemolytic disease of the newborn. Meanwhile, she had discovered a flair for administration, and the service she built up for antenatal prediction, instant diagnosis and provision of blood at a minute’s notice, did much to establish Newcastle as a leading centre in the care of this condition. It was no surprise when, in 1950, she became the first full-time director of the Newcastle Regional Transfusion Centre.

As a co-author she was devasting, everything - even the English -had to be correct, and to write a paper with Sheilagh was a salutary and maturing experience. She wrote her MD thesis in 1956 on the Rh genotypes and their different antigenic properties, which proved the forerunner of renewed interest in this phenomenon.

In 1959 she received the Oliver Award for blood transfusion, and in 1960 a Council of Europe fellowship to study tranfusion facilities in Europe. This was a fruitful experience for all involved and she formed many friendships and links, particularly with the Scandinavian countries, which survive to this day.

When tissue typing became possible she was quick to realize its importance and, with the late Pat Dewar, established the Newcastle Transfusion Centre as one of excellence and reference in this field. Her collaboration with David Kerr and the Newcastle renal unit was one of the success stories of her time.

Sheilagh never enjoyed robust health and in her latter years was handicapped with respiratory insufficiency, and was therefore rarely to be seen at international congresses, but she hardly ever missed the Transfusion Director’s meetings. Her precise views and dogged determination could be very effective, and it was this attention to detail which determined the efficiency of the Newcastle Transfusion Centre. Almost every member of the staff, whether a driver, donor attendant or deputy director, was chosen with extreme care and the final decision was usually Sheilagh’s.

She had many other interests, particularly literature, and in later years developed an expertise in antique glass and frequently contributed articles to journals. She published an authoritative account of Newcastle glass, The Peacock and the lions: a history and manual for collectors of pressed glass of the north east of England, Stocksfield, Oriel, 1982. After her retirement, having become a national figure in glass, she took an interest in paintings, particularly those by local artists. Whenever one visited her at home there was never any shortage of conversation: transfusion topics and personalities, glass and painting. One could easily find oneself out of one’s depth. You would forget that she had serious respiratory insufficiency but for the fact that from time to time she would break off, perhaps in the middle of a sentence, to take a whiff of oxygen in order to enable her to continue the conversation with renewed vigour. You were very likely to be joined by her son and daughter, with their respective children, and find yourself involved in a family gathering which revolved around Sheilagh.

W Walker

[, 1984,289,120; Lancet, 1984,2,474-75]

(Volume VIII, page 355)

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