Lives of the fellows

Arthur James Rook

b.15 May 1915 d.30 July 1991
MRCS LRCP(1942) MB BChir Cantab(1942) MA(1944) MRCP(1948) MD(1950) FRCP(1962)

Arthur Rook was the son of Sir William Rook KB, knighted for his services as director of sugar at the Ministry of Food during the 1939-45 war. He was born at Cobham, Surrey and educated at Charterhouse School, Trinity College, Cambridge, and St Thomas’ Hospital. After three years in the RAF, rising to the rank of squadron leader, he returned to St Thomas’ to continue his dermatology training under the remarkable team of Geoffrey Dowling [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.163] and Hugh Wallace [Munk's Roll, Vol.VIII, p.520], who were enduring influences in his life. During this time as senior registrar, including an important six months at the St Louis Hospital in Paris, he wrote pioneering papers - especially with Ian Whimster - on keratoacanthoma and on bullous skin diseases.

At the early age of 32 he became consultant dermatologist at Cardiff, moving to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, three years later in 1953. There he quickly established a reputation as a superb and caring clinician with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all aspects of dermatology in its widest sense. He was a tireless clinical worker, undertaking regular clinics in many hospitals in East Anglia, and was a renowned teacher of trainees and postgraduates at all levels. He was able to convey the excitement of the subject and also initiated regular courses for trained and trainee dermatologists which were still running successfully more than 30 years later, at the time of his death. The first course, in 1958, caused considerable excitement at a time when facilities for the continuing education of consultants were few and far between.

By the 1960s and ’70s Arthur Rook had become one of the most respected and widely known dermatologists in the world. This reputation depended partly on his clinical acumen and also on a great depth of scholarship involving regular reading in at least six European languages. He was a great protagonist of the importance of biological sciences in clinical medicine, now taken for granted. He taught, by example, that a search of the literature involved many languages and also a knowledge of history. He had a rather daunting and enviable ability to quote from the world’s literature on almost any aspect of dermatology.

In 1968 his scholarship blossomed and was pre-eminent in the Textbook of dermatology, Oxford, Blackwell, which he edited with D S Wilkinson and F J G Ebling, of which he wrote about a third. It was often affectionately known as the ‘Rook Book’. With three further editions under his editorship, this book went a long way towards extending his own international reputation and did much to enhance the reputation of British dermatology abroad. His impact extended far beyond the confines of dermatology. His special tributes and energy enabled him to write two other monographs; one on Botanical dermatology, with J C Mitchell, Vancouver, 1979, and another on Diseases of the hair and scalp, with RPR Dawber. He also edited and tranformed the British Journal of Dermatology.

Arthur Rook was president of the British Association of Dermatologists from 1974-75 and of the International Society of Tropical Dermatology. He was Parkes Weber lecturer in 1964 and civil consultant to the Royal Air Force for eight years. Among many honours, he received several prestigious British and foreign medals and was an honorary or foreign member of 18 foreign dermatological or other societies. More recently, he was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine. He had a keen interest in medical history and was Willan Librarian from 1974-1991 and also president of the British Society for the History of Medicine. He completed his 521 page History of Addenbrooke's Hospital, with M Carlton and W G Cannon, only just before his death; it was published by Cambridge University Press in 1991.

As a person he was quiet and entirely likeable. In 1942 he married Jane Knott, daughter of the pathologist Frank A Knott [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.234]. They made an endearing and hospitable team. They had three sons, one of whom is a reader and consultant in medical microbiology and another a QC. His outside interests included reading of all sorts but notably medical history, ornithology, botany and gardening. He retired early, in 1977, at the age of 59 because of Parkinson’s disease but was able to continue his academic work and output right up to the time of his death at the age of 73. His wife had died the previous autumn. Their three sons and eight grandchildren survived them.

R H Champion

[Brit.med.J., 1991,303,988; The Lancet, 1991,338,688; The Times, 7 Aug 1991; The Independent, 7 Aug 1991; The Daily Telegraph, 2 Aug 1991; Brit.J.Derm., l991,125,601-602;Textbook of Dermatology, 5th ed.,Oxford.Blackwell,1992,p.xiv]

(Volume IX, page 450)

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