Lives of the fellows

Douglas Ronald Seaton

b.19 May 1912 d.30 October 1986
BChir Cantab(1936) MRCS LRCP(1936) MA MB(1937) DTM(1939) MRCP(1939) DTH(1940) FRCP(1966)

Ronald Seaton was educated at Bradfield College, King’s College Cambridge and Leeds University, graduating in 1936. His grandfather was president of Leeds Medical School and a surgeon at Leeds Infirmary, and his father Douglas Seaton was a general practitioner and anaesthetist in Leeds. His mother Constance, née Ingham, was the daughter of an engineer.

After qualifying, Ronald helped his father in his practice until 1939; as a child he had accompanied his father on foot on his medical rounds in Leeds. Having passed his MRCP and his DTM&H, he obtained an MRC junior fellowship and served his tropical research apprenticeship with Warrington Yorke. On the outbreak of war he joined the RAMC and was first posted to Freetown, Sierra Leone. In 1944 he was sent to India to take charge of the Army base typhus research unit in the Central Military Pathology Laboratory in Poona, with the rank of major and as specialist in pathology.

Under Ronald’s leadership studies on the natural history of the various types of typhus, particularly in the Indian subcontinent, were undertaken. The team, which included Michael (later Sir Michael) Stoker, isolated strains of rickettsia, especially murine strains from rat fleas. During this time nearly all members of the research team, including Ronald, contracted murine typhus. The main contribution of the team was the identification of Indian tick typhus as one of this spotted fever group. At that time Ronald was one of a distinguished group at the Central Military Pathology Laboratory. It inclued Douglas Black, later Sir Douglas PRCP, Paul Fourman [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.181], Michael Stoker and Bill Hughes - a founder of bacterial genetics. All of them were close friends of Ronald. In 1946 he was repatriated and joined the School of Tropical Medicine as an assistant physician and lecturer.

I first met him in 1949 and was privileged to be his senior house physician in the tropical ward of Sefton General Hospital, Liverpool. He was an astute, patient and humane person who showed me great tolerance in my early days. He published one of the earliest authoritative papers on the problem of resistance to antimalarial drugs, a subject much in the limelight these days. His lectures to generations of students were quite unique, mingling a dry sense of humour with erudition and a disarming smile. He was a compassionate, generous and completely self-effacing person, making it quite impossible to extract from him any information about his achievements no matter how well one knew him. Over my many years with him in Liverpool he treated me as a younger brother, frequently offering me the hospitality of his house in my early days and remaining a friend and confidant in my later ones.

Ronald was awarded his Fellowship in 1966, and characteristically said that he was elected because his son had got his MRCP by then.

Ronald Seaton was a man of great culture, superb intelligence, with an extraordinary memory. He could identify most of the visible stars and had a wide ranging knowledge of botany. He spoke French and German, the latter quite fluently. He regularly did The Times crossword puzzle in less than half an hour, retaining this faculty until the last week of his life. On one occasion he was a regional finalist in the crossword competition. He also played a good game of golf.

He married Julia, daughter of James Wilder Harrison, in 1937 and they had five children: four sons and a daughter. He was a devoted husband and father who put his family first, above all else. He was delighted that the medical dynasty continued, with two of his sons becoming consultant physicians, one of his 13 grandchildren a medical student, and his daughter Jane a nurse.

He was an undemonstrably religious man, and took his illness with a lot of quiet courage. He survived eight years after pneumonectomy for lung cancer, to die of left ventricular failure. His wife and daughter nursed him devotedly in his last illness. If he had been more ambitious Ronald Seaton would undoubtedly have been one of the great leaders in tropical medical science.

HMJ Gilles

(Volume VIII, page 445)

<< Back to List