Lives of the fellows

Rupert Samuel Bruce Pearson

b.8 September 1904 d.18 August 1974
BA Oxon(1926) MRCS LRCP(1929) BM BCh(1929) MRCP(1931) DM(1934) FRCP(1939)

R.S.B. Pearson was Rupert to his family, but to his colleagues he was simply Bruce Pearson, and there was often some doubt as to whether Bruce was his Christian name or in some way part of his surname. He was a general physician with wide interests but also with intense clinical and experimental interests in allergy and in gastroenterology. Although he appeared to be a jack of all trades he was certainly a master in the field of asthma.

He was born in Buckingham, where his father, George Bruce Pearson, was in general practice for many years. His mother, Maud Mary, was the daughter of Samual Jones, one of a firm of solicitors in Retford, Nottinghamshire, who in turn held the townclerkship of that town for 100 years. Rupert’s brother, Maurice, of the same firm of solicitors, died in office as Mayor of Retford in 1964.

Educated at Charterhouse and Trinity College, Oxford, Bruce graduated BA with first class honours in physiology in 1926. His clinical studies were done at Guy’s Hospital, London, where he won the Treasurer’s Gold Medal in medicine in 1929, and in the same year he graduated BM, BCh. After a series of resident posts he became a medical registrar at Guy’s in 1931. In this period he was very much influenced by the late Sir Arthur Hurst, who always inspired his young assistants to do greater things.

As an out patient medical registrar at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, in 1933-34, he came under the influence of G.W. Bray and this was the beginning of his life-long interest in asthma.

In 1935 Bruce returned to Guy’s Hospital as assistant to R.T. Grant in the Clinical Research Unit of the Medical Research Council. From Grant he learnt always to ask ‘how?" and "why?" and also to perform those simple but meticulous clinical experiments that were so characteristic of the Thomas Lewis school of research. He was appointed assistant physician to Hampstead General Hospital in 1937.

His appointment to the consultant staff at King’s College Hospital in 1938 gave him full scope for all his varied interests. Throughout the war he acted as resident medical superintendent at King’s with a heavy burden of administrative, teaching, and clinical duties. With characteristic benevolence he created a happy team of junior and senior colleagues, and even encouraged some of them to dig for victory in the hospital grounds.

His popularity as a teacher was enhanced by the encouragement that he gave to the students in tennis and squash. Later, despite advancing hip trouble, and various illnesses and operations, he continued to play golf and to take long country walks. Up to the year before his death he could have been seen walking on the South Downs with the aid of two sticks and outlasting his companions. He wrote stories for his children and grandchildren and he enjoyed reading and painting. His main hobby, however, was gardening and there were few months of the year when he did not have one of his own roses in his buttonhole.

In the best tradition of those days, as a part-time consultant, Bruce Pearson undertook a full clinical commitment in internal medicine at both King’s College and the Woolwich Memorial Hospitals, and, at the same time, he worked tirelessly in clinical research.

In his study of recurrent swellings of the parotid glands he performed his own sialograms and made microscopic studies of the mucus plugs. This work opened up new avenues of thought on the place of allergy in the aetiology of this condition (Gut, 1961, 2, 210). In typical fashion, as part of his studies in gastroenterology, he made full use of the gastroscope before the advent of the fibre-optic instrument. He was a member of the British Society of Gastroenterology.

In his asthma clinic he kept detailed personal records of a great number of patients, many of whom were followed up for 20 years and more. To skin testing and desensitization studies he applied a balance of judgement and a critical appraisal that were often sadly lacking in the early days of such work. He conducted many trials on the comparative value of the various corticosteroid and other preparations that are used in asthma, but it could be said that it was his humane and sympathetic approach to his patients that made an equal contribution to the care of the sufferers from this trying complaint (‘Treatment of Chronic Asthma with Prednisolone and the Newer Steroids’ Brit. Med. J., 1961,1, 315.) He wrote more than 30 papers on all aspects of the subject and one other can be mentioned, ‘Deaths in Asthmatics’ (Thorax 1959, 14, 341).

Bruce Pearson was a very active member of the British Allergy Society, and he was largely responsible, as general secretary, for organizing the International Congress on Allergy in London in 1974. He was, however, unable to complete this task owing to illness. He was an honorary member of both the American Academy of Allergy and the Société Française d’Allergie.

He was an examiner for the Universities of Oxford and of London and also for the Conjoint Board and the MRCP London. He served on the Council of the Royal College of Physicians from 1962 to 1964.

After retiring from the Health Service in 1969 he spent 2½ years as senior specialist physician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Barbados, where he maintained his interest in asthma and initiated research into house dust mite allergy in the West Indies.

In 1939 he married Mary Katherine Elizabeth (Hazel), a daughter of John Oliver Aldworth who was a major in the Indian Army and who had brought his family from their farm in County Cork to Bracklay, Northants, during the Sinn Fein troubles. They had a daughter, and an adopted son, and lived in Dulwich and later in Bromley, Kent. Hazel died in 1958. His second marriage in 1962 was to Mrs. Joyce Mary Barmby, a daughter of James Walter Strange of Puttenham, Surrey, who was a banker and a member of the London Stock Exchange. They set up a lovely home on the outskirts of Godalming in Surrey which was a delight to both of their families and to their many friends.

The writer is privileged to quote from a letter written by Bruce to a loved one during one of his last illnesses. ‘I am basically an optimist and cannot believe that the human mind and spirit is just made to wither away, and my only hope is to cling to my belief in God.’ He hoped that his attitude to life would be a witness to his love of God. His close friends would aver that this hope was amply fulfilled.

At the age of 69 years and after a very trying illness he died in St. Luke’s Hospital, Guildford.

NS Plummer

[Brit.med.J., 1974, 3, 632, 746; Lancet, 1974, 2, 533; Times, 21 August 1974]

(Volume VI, page 373)

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