Lives of the fellows

Ronald William Riddell

b.9 November 1913 d.21 November 1984
MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1947) MRCPE(1947) MD(1948) FRCPE(1951) FRCPath(1964) FRCP(1972)

‘Roland’ Riddell was born in London, son of William Henry Riddell, a musician, and his wife Ada, daughter of John Littlemore, an engineer. Later in life he chose to modify his first name to Ronald. He was educated at William Ellis School, Highgate, and at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, qualifying with the Conjoint diploma in 1939.

The early part of his career, like that of most of his contemporaries, was largely determined by war service. In the RAMC from 1939-45, his first postings were in Scottish Command, where he started his training as a pathologist; later he served as pathologist to a military hospital stationed at Caserta, and finally as assistant director of pathology to the Central Mediterranean Force. On demobilization he was appointed senior lecturer in medical mycology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 1948-49 he was Commonwealth Fund travelling fellow in microbiology at Duke University, Carolina, and Columbia University, New York. During this time his interest in medical mycology was fostered, especially at Duke. On his return to London he was appointed senior lecturer in this subject at the Institute of Dermatology. His appointment as consultant bacteriologist to the Brompton Hospital in 1951 provided him with the main focus of his work for the rest of his career, but he maintained an interest in the mycology of the skin through part-time appointments at the Institute of Dermatology and St John’s Hospital.

At Brompton the pathology services of the hospital were being expanded, and the newly formed Institute of Diseases of the Chest was developing academic departments in some laboratory disciplines. J R May was appointed to head the Institute’s department of bacteriology. Relations between the clinical and academic sides were not always easy, but a modus vivendi was established by which research activities were divided; Riddell concentrating on the mycobacterial infections that were then prominent in the work of the hospital, and on his established interest in fungal infections, while May devoted himself to other bronchopulmonary bacterial infections, especially those complicating chronic bronchitis. For the hospital Riddell developed a comprehensive bacteriological service, and was active in the formulation and implementation of policies for the control of infection and the use of antibiotics; in research, he made important contributions to the early studies of the role of aspergillus in human lung disease. He became additionally responsible for bacteriological services at the London Chest Hospital in 1970, and at the National Heart Hospital in 1972, after the incorporation of the three hospitals into the National Heart and Chest Hospitals. His principal publications were contributions to textbooks, relating to fungus diseases of the lungs and to mycobacterial infections. In the College, he gave the Mitchell Lecture in 1974 on ‘The modern chemotherapy of tuberculosis’. He served as a member of the microbiology committee on the International Union against Tuberculosis, and as chairman of the Acid-Fast Club in 1972.

Ron Riddell was of average height, always dressed in a conventionally professional style, even after less formality had become usual. His conversational manner was careful and considered. Although his working contacts with his colleagues were generally urbane, he seemed unduly sensitive to possible affront. In his younger days he played tennis, and was captain of the St Mary’s team. He was fond of music, especially early Italian, and after he had come to live in Chelsea became interested in the history and conservation of that borough.

He was twice married. By his first wife, Sheila, daughter of John Douglas, a civil servant, he had two sons - both of which followed him into the medical profession through St Mary’s Hospital Medical School and became general practitioners. The breakdown of this marriage unhappily led to his losing all contact with his sons. His second marriage was to Margaret Ann Lewis, a scientific officer in the haematology laboratory at Brompton.

JG Scadding

[Brit.med.J., 1985,290,164]

(Volume VIII, page 413)

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