Lives of the fellows

Frederick William Pavy

b.29 May 1829 d.19 September 1911
MD Lond Hon LLD Glasg FRCP(1861) FRS

Frederick Pavy was born at Wroughton in Wiltshire, the son of William Pavy, a maltster, and his wife Mary, and educated at Merchant Taylors’ School and Guy’s Hospital. He graduated at London University in 1852 with honours in physiology, comparative anatomy, surgery and obstetric medicine, and gained the gold medal for medicine. After serving as house surgeon and house physician at Guy’s, he studied in Paris under Claude Bernard. He returned to Guy’s to become, in 1854, lecturer on comparative anatomy, two years later lecturer on physiology and microscopical anatomy, and in 1858 assistant physician and lecturer on clinical medicine. In 1871 he was raised to the status of physician and lecturer on medicine. He was a good, methodical general physician, but it was for his work on physiology and particularly metabolism — the path on which Claude Bernard had launched him — that Pavy gained a world-wide reputation. As early as 1860 he gave the Lettsomian Lectures to the Medical Society of London on diabetes, and in 1861 he communicated the results of his work on sugar formation in the liver to the Royal Society; these subjects, together with the chemistry of the urine, were the chief preoccupations of his long career. His influence as a teacher in the spheres of general approach and experimental methods was profound, and his own researches produced many discoveries and laid the foundations of others. In the treatment of diabetes, too, he was responsible for many advances, particularly in devising more satisfactory and palatable dietaries for the diabetic. Although the later discovery of insulin was to revolutionise the treatment of diabetes, Pavy’s work marked an important stage in its investigation, and, for more than a generation, he was recognised as the leading authority on the disease.

An outstanding exponent of the scientific approach to medicine, Pavy received many honours. He was a distinguished office-holder at the Royal College of Physicians, being Goulstonian Lecturer in 1862 and 1863, Croonian Lecturer in 1878 and 1894, Harveian Orator in 1891 and Baly Medallist in 1901, as well as a Censor. As a teacher, Pavy was deliberate and inclined to be dogmatic; but he took a great interest in his students and presented Guy’s Hospital with a well-equipped gymnasium. His large practice enabled him to indulge a natural generosity. His house was one of the first in London to be lit with electricity, and his horses and dinners were renowned for their excellence. He wore his years lightly and was at work, both in his consulting-room and laboratory, almost up to the day of his death at the age of eighty-two. He married in 1854 Julia, daughter of W. Oliver, by whom he had two daughters.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1911; B.M.J., 1911; D.N.B., 2nd Suppl., iii, 84]

(Volume IV, page 132)

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