Lives of the fellows

Jeremy David Hugh Slater

b.29 January 1928 d.15 January 1990
MB BChir Cantab(1952) MRCP(1955) MA Cantab(1957)FRCP(1970)

Jeremy Slater was always known as ‘William’ - or more commonly ‘Willie’. He was born in London to an artistic and literary family; his father Humphrey Richard Hugh Slater was an author and his mother, Elizabeth Dorothea née Robertson, was a painter. His early years at school gave little indication of his intellectual potential, although he became an accomplished flautist. At 16 he entered the 6th form at Westminster School and was subsequently awarded an open scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. While at Westminster he became a skilled fencer and oarsman, and he rowed for the School in the ‘head of the river’ race. At Cambridge he obtained first class honours in Part II (physiology), was senior scholar, and was awarded the tripos prize.

Following graduation he was house physician to Arthur Willcox [Munk s Roll, Vol.V, p.449] at the Middlesex Hospital and then, for two six-month stints, to Sir Francis Avery Jones at the Central Middlesex Hospital. His National Service was undertaken at hospitals in Aldershot as a junior specialist in medicine, RAMC. While in the Army he obtained his membership of the College and made epidemiological and clinical studies of streptococcal sore throat and acute rheumatic fever, written up in papers which were subsequently published. John Dickinson, who served with him in the Army, described him as one of the least military of officers but one of the most active, effective and considerate of physicians.

In 1955 he married Daphne, daughter of Charles Francis, a rubber planter. She was a professional musician and they had met in 1949 when she was a student at the Royal College of Music and a friend of his sister, Jennifer, a fellow student. They had a very happy home life. Willie merged his own musical interests with those of his wife who in turn gave him great support during their 35 years of married life. There were three children of the marriage and all have artistic talents and interests.

After completing his military service, Willie became house physician to Neville Oswald at the Brompton Hospital and then successively medical registrar at the Middlesex Hospital to John Nabarro, now Sir John, and at the Hammersmith Hospital to Russell Fraser. While at Cambridge he had been fascinated by clinical physiological problems and the registrar posts enabled him to further his interests in disorders of salt and water metabolism, adrenal steroid abnormalities, oedema formation and the development of hypertension. In 1960 he was awarded an international post-doctoral fellowship of the United States Public Health Service and went to Washington to work for a year with Fred Bartter [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.24] at the National Heart Institute, National Institutes of Health, where he studied the renin-angiotensin system in animals and in man.

In 1962 Willie Slater returned to the Middlesex Hospital, where he was to work for the next 28 years. From 1962-66 he was lecturer on the medical unit and deputy to the professor of medicine, Alan Kekwick [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.264]. He was appointed honorary consultant physician to the hospital in 1964. In addition to continuing with his research work, he now had administrative responsibilities with the medical unit, and an increasing involvement with undergraduate teaching. He was a marvellous teacher whose enthusiasm bubbled over and inspired many of his students to follow his own research interests.

At the Middlesex he started Tuesday afternoon student clinical meetings which followed the pattern of ‘grand rounds’. Students would work up a couple of cases and present them as a basis for discussion between themselves and specially invited staff. These meetings were very popular and widely copied in other medical schools. Willie chaired them for almost 25 years, only giving up when he became too ill to carry on.

Willie Slater always tried to get 28 hours work into a 24 hour day. In addition to his teaching commitments he had wide research interests and one of the most ambitious was a physiological study of the effects of altitude on healthy men. He organized this with Edward Williams, a well known Himalayan climber who later became professor of nuclear medicine at the Middlesex. The team also included Roger Ekins, Peter Sönksen, Richard Edwards and Charles Beresford, now in New Zealand, and Majorie McLaughlin who went with them as dietician. They spent six days at 3,500m on Plateau Rosa in Switzerland, where they undertook metabolic balance studies of electrolytes, aldosterone and cortisol secretion rates, and plasma renin measurements. The results were published in two important papers in Clinical Science. Willie continued his active research throughout his career, initially in the Institute of Clinical Research and later in the Cobbold Laboratories which he planned in the Thorne Institute of the hospital and medical school.

He covered a wide field and published many papers. He developed and validated important assay techniques; went on to study their use in physiological studies in normals and in patients, and finally to their use in elucidating clinical problems. In the course of thirty years as an active researcher, Willie trained many young men in the art and frustrations of medical research. He supervised a number of PhD students and guided many in the writing of their MD theses and in their studies. He regularly attended meetings of the Medical Research Society and his comments were perceptive and always helpful. He was one of the early editors of Clinical physiology with two other Fellows of the College, E J M Campbell and C J Dickinson, 4th ed. Oxford, Blackwell, 1974, continuing up to the recent 5th edition. He was also a member of the editorial board of Clinical Science.

Willie Slater was an excellent general physician and continued to do a general medical take until his final illness. He had a tremendous sense of humour and was passionately devoted to reading, travel and foreign languages, but teaching, administration and research all made great demands on his time. He continued to enjoy music and opera but seldom had time for his flute. When he was able to take a holiday he enjoyed walking in the hills of Wales and Scotland.

Sir John Nabarro

[Brit.med.J., 1990,300,675; The Lancet, 1990,335,596; The Charles Bell Journal, Summer 1990, UCH & Middx.School of Medicine]

(Volume IX, page 477)

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