Lives of the fellows

William Norman Pickles

b.6 March 1885 d.2 March 1969
CBE(1957) LMSSA(1909) MB BS Lond(1910) MD(1918) MRCP(1939) Hon DSc Leeds(1950) FRCP(1963)

Will Pickles of Aysgarth, as he was generally known to his friends, was born in Leeds. He was the son of a general practitioner, and one of six brothers, all of whom became general practitioners except one. He was educated at Leeds Grammar School, and the Medical School of the Yorkshire College, which was later to become part of the University of Leeds. In 1909 he obtained the licence to practise from the Society of Apothecaries, and obtained the London MB in 1910 and the MD in 1918.

After the first world war, in which he served as a Surgeon Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, he settled down in general practice in Aysgarth, Wensleydale. He stayed in Aysgarth for the rest of his life and did not finally give up practice until he was 76. It was James MacKenzie’s book The principles of diagnosis and treatment in heart affections, 3rd edition 1926, which set him off on the path of epidemiological research in general practice. He became interested in the spread of infectious hepatitis and Bornholm disease and published original papers in the BMJ in 1930 and 1933. He was able, because of his intimate knowledge of the lives of his patients in the dale, to trace cases of these and other diseases in which there had been only one contact with a known infectious case. He was therefore able to determine the incubation period of infectious hepatitis with great accuracy.

The value and originality of the epidemiological work of Pickles was recognized in 1937 by Professor Major Greenwood, who invited him to London where he met Sir Austin Bradford Hill and other epidemiologists. He was invited to give a paper at the Epidemiological section of the Royal Society of Medicine, which stimulated a leading article in the BMJ and gave him great encouragement. He decided to write a book describing his epidemiological studies and this appeared in May 1939 under the title Epidemiology in Country Practice, published by John Wright of Bristol.

He was appointed Milroy Lecturer by the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1942, and took as his title Epidemic Diseases in Village Life in Peace and War. In 1948 he gave the Cutter Lecture at Harvard University, and in 1950 was made an Hon DSc of Leeds University. From then on he received many invitations to lecture at different medical schools in the United Kingdom, and also to carry out lecture tours in Australia, South Africa and the United States and Canada. He became the first President of the College of General Practitioners, an office which he held from 1953 to 1956 before the college was granted its Royal Charter. He was awarded the Bisset Hawkins medal of the Royal College of Physicians in 1953, and the James MacKenzie medal of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, in 1955. He was appointed CBE in 1957 and made an FRCP London in 1963.

He greatly valued the fellowship and respect of his fellow general practitioners in Yorkshire, and he and his wife Gerty used to organize an annual doctors’ party for his colleagues, at which some distinguished doctor such as Sir James Spence, Sir James McIntosh or Henry Miller addressed the gathering.

JP Pemberton

[Brit.med.J., 1969,1, 594, 719; Lancet, 1969,1, 581; Times, 3 Mar 1969; for further biographical details see Will Pickles of Wensteydale, John Pemberton, Geoffrey Bles, London 1970]

(Volume VI, page 379)

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