Lives of the fellows

Geoffrey Arthur Rose

b.19 April 1926 d.12 November 1993
CBE(1991) BM BCh Oxon(1949) MRCP(1952) DM(1958) FRCP(1970) FFPHM(1974) FRCGP(1988)

Geoffrey Rose’s many and remarkable achievements were attested to in obituaries in all leading national dailies, as well as in medical journals. Indeed, there cannot be many doctors who have been unaffected - even if unknowingly - by the influence he had on both clinical and preventive practice. He was born in London where his father Arthur Norman Rose was a Methodist minister and his mother, Mary née Wadsworth, was the daughter of a Methodist minister. He was educated at Kingsmead and Oxford University. After house appointments at St Mary’s, London, to which he moved from his pre-clinical studies at Oxford, he did his national service in the RAF and then returned to St Mary’s as medical registrar and senior registrar. It was at this stage, under the influence of Sir George Pickering [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.464] and other members of his department, that Geoff developed his interest in cardiovascular disease. Pickering had shown the importance of the population-based approach in his work on blood pressure and by 1960 Geoff had already added a growing interest in epidemiology to his established skills as a clinician. From 1960-61 he held a visiting lectureship in epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, USA, and later became lecturer and then senior lecturer in epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and at St Mary’s - a joint association with the two institutions that was to continue for the rest of his career. He succeeded Donald Reid [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.493] to the chair of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene in 1977. To each of the three main responsibilities of a senior academic - teaching, research and practice -he made outstanding contributions. Over the years hundreds of undergraduate and postgraduate students, from many disciplines but very much including medicine itself, came under the influence of his own clear teaching style and the many courses for which he was responsible, not only in Britain but also internationally.

The writer’s own first encounter with Geoff was finding himself next to him in the buffet supper queue at an evening meeting. The topic of his current research interests came up and Geoff said he was switching his emphasis from work on methods to their application on aspects of cardiovascular disease. Subsequently, the Rose questionnaires on angina and intermittent claudication, and the Minnesota coding for electrocardiograms that Geoff and Henry Blackburn established, quickly became the standard for epidemiological studies around the world - including Geoff’s own internationally known work. His observational studies were primarily of risk factors for coronary heart disease through the Whitehall study of civil servants but included other topics, such as the role of salt in hypertension. He also contributed to work on radiation and cancer. On the experimental side, he was involved in the early trials of oral anticoagulants and of dietary modification after myocardial infarction, and also in the WHO trial of multiple risk factor intervention and the two MRC hypertension trials. He was both an innovator of research methods and a master of their use. As a practitioner, he continued with clinical medicine while on the public health side, showing that reducing the coronary heart disease epidemic must depend on changes, not necessarily very large, in risk factor levels in the population as a whole.

Geoff was many things besides being a successful and influential doctor. His Methodist background was strong and even those who did not know that Geoff himself was a lay preacher quickly realized what special personal qualities he brought to everything he did, and the example and support to others that he provided as a result. His faith helped him through a serious road accident in 1967. At the time of his retirement he decided not to continue at work, apart from becoming a research adviser to the Royal College of General Practitioners, but to devote himself entirely to his family and pastimes. He had married Ceridwen Coates in 1949 and they had two sons and a daughter. It was an extremely happy marriage and to some it was sad and unfair that this period of his life was so short, but Geoff almost certainly saw it differently. Several years before the onset of his final and mercifully brief illness, he said that he regarded death as a welcome transition and he wrote that he looked forward ‘. . . to sharing the experience of my grandfather who, the nearer he got to death, the more he was excited at what lay ahead.’ As Michael Marmot said, in his Lancet obituary: ‘He was ... a deeply religious man who saw good in everybody he dealt with, and in everything that happened to him - even his final rapidly fatal illness. There was harmony in his work, his remarkable marriage and family, his life, and in his death.’

T W Meade

[,307,1418; The Lancei.1993,342,1294;The Independent, 16 & 29 Nov 1993; The Times, 29 Nov 1993; MRC News, Winter 1994,p.34;, 1992,305,1519-20]

(Volume IX, page 451)

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