Lives of the fellows

Cedric Keith Simpson

b.20 July 1907 d.21 July 1985
CBE(1975) MRCS LRCP(1930) MB BS Lond(1930) MD(1932) MRCP(1958) FRCP(1964) FRCPath(1964) Hon DMJ(1962) Hon MA Oxon(1964) Hon MD Ghent(1973) Hon LLD Edin(1976)

Keith Simpson was the son of a doctor. He was educated at Brighton and Hove Grammar School and entered Guy’s Hospital as a student in 1924. As a student he was outstanding. He won the prizes for his year in anatomy, physiology and pathology, and gold medals in clinical surgery and bacteriology. He also won three research scholarships. After qualification in 1930 he proceeded to MD in pathology in 1932. He had already decided to become a forensic pathologist but his entry into the field was delayed by the early and sudden death of G W de P Nicholson, professor of pathology at Guy’s Hospital. Keith Simpson was then the lecturer in the department and took over its running, although still under 30 years of age, until Payling Wright [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.461] was appointed to succeed Nicholson. Keith was always proud of the fact that his efforts had been recognized by the School of Governors, who presented him with an honorarium. He left the department of pathology in 1937 when he became lecturer in forensic medicine and a full time forensic pathologist.

In 1937 forensic pathology was in the hands of individual police surgeons and general practitioners with an interest in pathology. It was only in special cases that the services of a recognized consultant pathologist were called upon. Keith Simpson rapidly demonstrated to the coroners and the police the value of the trained pathologist when dealing not only with criminal cases but also with routine coroners’ autopsies upon sudden or unnatural deaths. He wrote a series of articles in the Police Journal called ‘Studies in Reconstruction’ Based upon his own cases, showing the importance of forensic pathology in the solution of certain crimes. From the start of his career he was a prolific and lucid writer. In 1947 his undergraduate textbook Forensic Medicine, London, Edward Arnold & Co., became the best seller in the field, and was not only used by undergraduates but was widely read by general practitioners and police surgeons. Although forensic medicine was dropped soon after the war as a separate paper in the final examination, the popularity of the book never waned and during his lifetime it achieved eight editions and six reprints. The ninth edition appeared shortly after his death. The third edition had gained him the Swiney Prize of the Royal Society of Arts. In 1956, with Sir Sydney Smith, he edited the eleventh edition of Taylor's principles and practice of medical jurisprudence, and in 1965 he edited the centenary edition. He was always delighted that the editorship had returned from Scotland to Guy’s Hospital. He also edited two editions of Modern Trends in forensic medicine, London, Butterworth, 1953 [1952]. Besides these well known publications he also wrote two editions of A Doctor's guide to Court, London, Butterworth, 1962, and a series of cases under the pseudonym of Guy Bailey.

Keith was in great demand as a lecturer, not only in the British Isles but also worldwide. He visited many countries and established contacts between his department at Guy’s Hospital and forensic and police departments throughout the world. Every year he welcomed numerous overseas visitors in the department. Many were social calls, but not a few were to seek advice which he was always willing to give, however busy. He was a well liked and fair, but thorough, examiner at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. If postgraduates fared badly through lack of experience he would often invite them to spend a fortnight at Guy’s Hospital.

In 1946 he was appointed the first reader in forensic medicine in London University, at Guy’s, where he began to build the first department of forensic medicine in the University. He was given a personal chair in 1962 and in the same year was appointed lecturer at Oxford University. He was a founder member and later president of the British Association of Forensic Medicine; a founder, fellow and council member of the Royal College of Pathologists, and a president of The Medico-Legal Society. He received honorary degrees from Oxford, Ghent and Edinburgh, and was appointed CBE in 1975. He played a major role in the rapid advancement of forensic pathology and science after the war. He was a member for many years of the Home Office Scientific Advisory Committee and he served on the Committee of the Medical Protection Society. He retired from Guy’s in 1972, but continued both to work and write until his death. His autobiography Forty years of murder..., London, Harrap, was published in 1978, and was among the top ten best sellers for many months.

In spite of his great commitment to forensic medicine, Keith liked to relax. At his country cottage in Tring he frequently entertained guests over the weekend. At one time he carried out much work on the cottage. He was very musical, a keen gardener, and a one time president of the local horticultural society. He always took an interest in student activities, having been chairman of the Clubs’ Union Council and president of Guy’s Hospital Boxing Club. He also took an active role in many hospital committees.

He married Mary Buchanan in 1932 and they had three children, including a son now practising medicine. After his wife died he married his secretary, Jean Scott Dunn, in 1956. Left a widower a second time, he married Dr Janet Thurston, widow of Gavin Thurston the former coroner for Westminster, who had been his fellow student at Guy’s.

A Keith Mant

[Brit.med.J., 1985,291,416; Lancet, 1985,2,399; Times, 23 July 1985,28 May 1988; Guy's Hosp. Gaz., Aug. 1985,99, No.2355,282-284; J.roy.Soc.Arts, Sept 1985,5350,733-34; Doctors, 14 July 1988,54; Trms.Mem.address, 23 Dec 1985]

(Volume VIII, page 462)

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