Lives of the fellows

Harold Scarborough

b.27 March 1909 d.22 August 1988
CBE(1976) MB ChB Edin(1932) PhD(1940) FRCPE(1947) MRCP(1955) FRCP(1960) FRS Edin

Harold Scarborough was born in Leeds, the son of a general practitioner, Oswald Lowndes Scarborough, and his wife Elizabeth Menzies. After education with a classical emphasis at Bridlington Grammar School he went on to the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated in medicine with honours in 1932. After junior posts in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, including the clinical tutorship in the department of therapeutics, and a demonstratorship in pharmacology, he took a PhD in biochemistry. It was evident in those early years that he was heading for a distinguished career - indeed, he and a number of his colleagues in Edinburgh, most notably John McMichael and Melville Arnott, were destined to have a major influence on British medicine in the post war years. Harold spent the war years as principal medical officer of South East Scotland’s emergency blood transfusion service and after the war returned to academic medicine, obtaining a Beit Memorial research fellowship at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, London, 1945-47. A Rockefeller travelling fellowship then took him to Harvard Medical School, 1947-48, and in 1949 he rejoined Melville Arnott, now professor of medicine in Birmingham, as reader in medicine.

Scarborough went to Cardiff as professor of medicine in the Welsh National School of Medicine in October 1950, where he had the challenge of introducing scientific medicine to what was a clinically sound but academically undeveloped unit. In Cardiff, he soon established himself as a leader. The medical unit in particular, and the School in general, flourished under his influence - the effects of which can be clearly seen today. In medicine he formed a strong alliance and close friendship with the senior physician, William Phillips [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.377] and together they made a deep impact on medicine in South Wales. Harold Scarborough was a shrewd judge and the unit quickly attracted a number of first-class clinical academics. Particular mention should be made of Paul Fourman [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.l81], who brought to Cardiff international distinction in metabolic medicine and endocrinology. Harold’s own interests in purpura and capillary fragility, in haematology, and latterly in renal disease, were reflected in the growth of these subjects in Cardiff and in the careers of the young physicians he fostered. In later years he was quietly proud of the 14 professors who at one time or another had worked in the medical unit at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. These included Peter Fentem who became professor of physiology in Nottingham, Peter Adams who became professor of medicine in Manchester, Keith Peters who became professor of medicine at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School and later regius professor of physic in Cambridge, and Eldryd Parry who was to make his career in Africa.

Harold Scarborough used his theatrical interests and aptitude (as an undergraduate he had contemplated a career in acting) to great advantage in his teaching, and his lectures were outstanding. His approach to medicine was to explain disease, wherever possible, in terms of disordered physiology. This was epitomized in the highly successful Textbook of Physiology and Biochemistry, Edinburgh, E & S Livingstone, 1950, which he wrote with George Bell and Norman Davidson, known to generations of medical students as ‘BDS’. The book had seven editions written by the original authors. His students learned from his critical and balanced approach, and he showed them how to combine scientific and compassionate approaches to medicine.

In 1970, the next phase of his career began. He had developed a deep interest and affection for Nigeria as a visiting professor to Ibadan. He felt that after nearly 20 years in Cardiff it was time for change, both for him and for the Welsh National School of Medicine. He therefore eagerly accepted the post of dean in the newly established faculty of medicine at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, in Northern Nigeria. These were difficult days: the civil war was just ending; there was little money for higher education; recruitment was difficult; and few people from the south of Nigeria wanted to work in the north. Harold Scarborough set about his task with tact, hard work, and level-headed detachment. He quickly accumulated an excellent professoriate, including Eldryd Parry and James Lowrie, in medicine and surgery respectively, and in spite of the difficulties the new medical school flourished. In addition to his administrative load, he continued to teach, and his wise and balanced counsel won him the respect of his junior and senior colleagues. In its early years the medical school was predominantly expatriate. Harold Scarborough, with characteristic sensitivity, prepared the way for senior Nigerians to assume responsibility.

When the time came for him to retire, Harold returned to his home in Malta. However, he was quickly bored with the relative inactivity and he returned to Nigeria as a teacher of clinical physiology, of medicine in the field, and of bedside physical signs at the new faculty of health sciences of the University of Ilorin, where his former house physician, Eldryd Parry, was the foundation dean. At Ilorin he lived simply; he gladly went to live in villages when students were doing field work, and applied himself with diligence and care to problem solving teaching, and to the imaginative curriculum designed by John Hamilton. After three years Harold Scarborough decided to leave, yet his return again to Malta was not to be for long before the call came once more, this time for Maiduguri in the north of Nigeria where he was desperately needed to act as provost of the medical school, and medical director of the teaching hospital. The difficulties there were even greater than at Ilorin, or in Zaria, but he persisted and laid the foundation for a sound medical school.

Harold finally retired to Malta in 1984, retaining his interests in medical education and especially in medical education in under-privileged nations. He travelled widely, and every year returned to visit friends in South Wales.

Harold Scarborough was a man of great concern, whose clear and incisive mind got to the heart of a problem but without forcefulness or rancour. He was excellent company, with a deep interest in literature and a passionate love of the theatre, and he was an expert gardener. Although he was a shy and private man, he engendered great loyalty and affection from his students and junior doctors, many of whom became lifelong friends. He contributed greatly to medicine in the UK and in Nigeria, and helped many to achieve their professional goals. In short, he was a great physician.

EHO Parry
DK Peters

[The Times, 1 Sept 1988;, 1988,297,736,1124;Lancet, 1988,2,635-6,805; RCP Edin.Proceedings, Jan 1989,No. 1,108-9]

(Volume VIII, page 439)

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