Lives of the fellows

Alan Boynton Raper

b.25 October 1908 d.22 September 1984
BSc Leeds(1931) MB ChB(1934) MD(1937) MRCP(1937) DTM&H(1950) FRCPath(1964) FRCP(1965)

Alan Raper was born in Wakefield, the son of John Henry Raper, an ironmonger, and his wife Mary, née Livingstone. His maternal grandfather was a sailor, inventor and entrepreneur, and it is tempting to suppose that Alan inherited some of his gifts, which he displayed in his fertile and original research.

Alan was educated at Wakefield Grammar School and the University of Leeds. After house appointments at the General Infirmary, Leeds, and at Brompton Hospital, London, he began his training as a pathologist in the Yorkshire Clinical Laboratories in 1935. Throughout the war he served in the RAMC in France, Kenya, Ceylon and Bengal, and this experience gave him a lifelong interest in tropical medicine. After demobilization he spent 10 years as a senior pathologist in Uganda. In 1958, after spending two years in London as a staff member of the Medical Research Council, he was appointed consultant pathologist (haematology) to the United Bristol Hospitals, where he remained until he retired in 1973. After his retirement, he and his wife went to live in the Lake District which they dearly loved.

Alan Raper belonged to a time when it was still possible to be an all-round general pathologist, and he was an excellent one. He was a first class microscopist and histopathologist. His wide knowledge embraced parasitology as well as the cytology and chemistry of the blood. He had the eye of an artist and this probably helped him to see things that sometimes escaped others. These talents were evident in his laboratory work. He believed that good microscopy and clinical insight should complement the automated chemical and physical techniques that have developed in haematology since the second world war.

Raper will be particularly remembered for his research on the haemoglobinopathies, especially for his contributions to our understanding of the relationship between sickle-cell anaemia and malaria. There was controversy in the 1950s over the claim that sickling protected against malaria. The work of Raper and his colleagues appeared in three classic papers that are still widely quoted, published in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine and the British Medical Journal. According to his friend Hermann Lehmann, one of Alan’s most important contributions was to show that the protective effect of sickling occurred in children when they lost their maternal immunity to falciparum malaria, and before acquired immunity was established. Sicklers and non-sicklers were infected equally often, but the severity of the infection and the mortality were less in the sicklers. This explained how falciparum malaria selected for the sickle-cell trait in the population.

During his early years at Bristol, Raper published some 20 papers dealing with thalassaemia, the hereditary persistence of foetal haemoglobin, the change over from foetal to adult haemoglobin synthesis, the incidence of transplacental haemorrhage at the time of delivery, and other haematological topics. As a diagnostician the breadth of his experience was invaluable. This was particularly notable when patients with tropical infections were admitted to the hospitals in Bristol. Soon after his appointment Raper instituted regular teaching programmes in haematology to clinical students and these were very popular.

He made another contribution to medicine, as an editor; first of the East African Medical Journal (Uganda), and later of the Bristol Medico-Chirurgical Journal.

Alan Raper was a friendly and modest man, and an excellent colleague. He had a deep interest in the arts: he read widely and loved music, and was a talented amateur painter. He married Doris Grainger, a farmer’s daughter, in 1939, and their family life was happy and rewarding. They had five children, a daughter and four sons: Margaret died in infancy, Martin is an architect, James a solicitor, John works for the Atomic Energy Authority, and Christopher is a doctor who, at the time of writing, is a consultant haematologist at the Kingston General Hospital, Hull.

WA Gillespie

[Brit.med.J., 1985,290,475]

(Volume VIII, page 405)

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