b.8 September 1905 d.13 September 1979
MB BCh BAO Belf(1927) BSc(1929) MD(1930) MRCP(1934) FRCP(1941)
Sam Nevin was the son of an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary. A true Ulsterman, he never lost his pronounced Northern Irish manner of speech. He studied medicine at Queen’s University, Belfast, graduating with first class honours in 1927. Two years later he took the BSc with first class honours in pathology, bacteriology and biochemistry, proceeding to MD in 1930. After house appointments at the Royal Victoria Hospital and a period as demonstrator in physiology at Queen’s University, Belfast, he studied at the London Hospital and at the National Hospital, Queen Square, where he later worked in the clinical research unit. He was appointed assistant physician and neuropathologist at Maida Vale Hospital and, on the death of Kinnier Wilson, became assistant neurologist at King’s College Hospital in 1937. The following year he also became consultant neurologist to the transferred mental institutions of the London County Council.
Nevin was arguably the best equipped all-round British neurologist of his time, for he was an expert in neurophysiology and neuropathology, quite apart from his clinical knowledge, and discriminating colleagues knew his worth. He was elected FRCP in 1941 and, in addition to his appointments at Maida Vale Hospital and King’s College Hospital, he became director of the research laboratory of the Institute of Psychiatry, Maudsley Hospital, and professor of mental pathology in the University of London. Late in his career he spent a year in the USA so that he might learn electron microscopy. In retrospect, his most important work concerned the presenile dementias, and his presidential address to the section of neurology of the Royal Society of Medicine was on this topic. He combined with DP Jones to describe sub-acute spongiform encephalopathy in 1954, an important contribution for which the authors seem to have received scant international credit, though admittedly their early conclusions favoured a vascular aetiology which later proved to be incorrect. Muscle disorders were also among his special interests. His unassuming, modest temperament was liable to lead young men into faulty estimations of his capacity. He had a habit of posing seemingly simple questions as though he did not know the answers and many a new house physician, or registrar, responded confidently - ignorant of the concealed depth of knowledge within the questioner.
Sam was a private, devout person, and few knew him well. He possessed a first class inquiring mind and, outwardly, he was serious, even puritanical. Yet he had a great sense of fun and was the kindest of men and most caring of physicians. He neither expected nor desired professional awards, and seemed surprised when recognition came his way. He was afflicted with serious illness throughout his retirement, yet he continued to travel and attend meetings. His pursuit of learning and technological advances remained undimmed, and his friends, colleagues, and former students will remember him as a wise and warmhearted man.
In 1950 he married Margaret Esch and they had two children, a son and a daughter.
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
[Brit.med.J., 1979, 2, 1151; Lancet, 1979, 2, 702]
(Volume VII, page 428)
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