Lives of the fellows

Francis Thomas Garnet Prunty

b.5 January 1910 d.24 September 1979
BA Cantab(1932) MA(1935) MRCS LRCP(1941) MB Bchir(1941) MRCP(1941) MD(1944) FRCP(1950)

Garnet Prunty was born in Hampstead, the son of Frank Hugh Prunty, an Australian, and Una Elizabeth Newnham (née Marsden). After his father’s death in 1919 he went with his mother to Australia, and his education began in Sydney. It continued, after return to England in 1921, at St Paul’s School and after graduating BA with first class honours in Natural Sciences from Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became a Senior Scholar, he worked at the Lister Institute as a research biochemist, and later as a government chemist. Realizing that his true bent lay in the medical field, he became a student at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, from which he qualified in 1941 and, in the same year, he became a member of the College. Also in that year he was appointed demonstrator in chemical pathology at St Thomas’s, which enabled him to bring his scientific tranining into medical service.

In 1944 he proceeded MD and was awarded the Raymond Horton-Smith prize at Cambridge; he was then promoted to a lectureship. Later, with the award of a Rockefeller travelling fellowship, he went to the United States, and from 1945 — 47 was a research fellow in medicine at Harvard University and assistant in medicine at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston. Here he developed his lifelong interest in metabolic and endocrine disorders. Returning to St Thomas’s, he set up a routine chemical pathology laboratory, and began the researches which continued throughout the rest of his professional life and established his international reputation. In 1947 he became reader, and his clinical skill was recognized by his appointment two years later, in 1949, as honorary physician to St Thomas’s Hospital. A personal professorship was awarded in 1952, and he became the first incumbent of the chair of chemical pathology, which was established in 1963. He was Humphrey Rolleston lecturer in 1956. He retired in 1975.

Prunty, despite his quiet, somewhat austere manner, played a deceptively important part in the development of clinical chemistry in general and endocrinology in particular. At the time he started, chemical pathology was barely recognized but, along with other pioneers, he established its validity both as a scientific discipline and as a clinical service of real value to patients. Through his persuasion, the University of London accepted it as a distinct subspecialty of pathology. The importance of his department is reflected by the growth in the numbers of its staff engaged in routine analyses, treatment of patients, and research, from two to eighty. Among those who underwent a substantial part of their training in his department, nine later became professors, ten consultant chemical pathologists and three consultant endocrinologists, an eloquent testimonial to his teaching qualities. His own contributions, characterized by their scientific scrupulousness and integrity, include two books and nearly 100 original papers and chapters in books.

Prunty’s reputation as an endocrinologist received its recognition, not only by his election as president of the section of endocrinology of the Royal Society of Medicine but, in the international field, by his becoming the first secretary and later chairman, of the International Society of Endocrinology, in the foundation of which he played a leading part. He was life governor of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, having served as a member of Council; an emeritus member of the Biochemical Society; and an honorary member of the Society for Endocrinology, the British Nuclear Medicine Society, the Sociedad Medica de Occidente (Guatemala) and the Romanian Society of Endocrinology.

He married Rita Hepburn Stobbs in 1933, by whom he had a son and daughter. The marriage was dissolved in 1971, and in 1972 he married Jean Margaret Maxwell-Moore.

Garnet Prunty’s sporting interests were considerable. In the 1930s he won several cups for rifle shooting, and took part in the Monte Carlo rally during the pre-war days, before the professionals took over. After the war, having learned to sail, this became his abiding interest, and he was elected to membership of the Royal Thames Yacht Club; centred on Itchenor, he won many cups and prizes and was a regular attender at Cowes Week.

GIM Swyer

[Brit.med.J., 1979, 2, 944; Lancet, 1979, 2, 805; Daily Telegraph, 25 Sept 1979]

(Volume VII, page 482)

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