Lives of the fellows

Marion Cecilia Smith

b.15 January 1915 d.19 October 1988
BSc Zool Glasg(1937) MB ChB(1944) MD(1955) MRCP(1965) FRCPath(1965) FRCP(1971) DSc(1985)

Marion Smith (Mrs Stephen Sherwood), known to a large number of people as Mai, made important contributions to the anatomy and pathology of the human nervous system, and to the histological methods of studying that system. She spent most of her life working for the Medical Research Council at the National Hospitals for Nervous Diseases at Queen Square. When she retired she was given facilities to continue her unfinished work at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford.

Marion was educated at the Notre Dame Montessori School and Notre Dame High School, Glasgow, and went on to Glasgow University, where she took an honours degree in zoology. On graduation she became a demonstrator in zoology, and then lectured in biology at Mount Pleasant Training College, Liverpool. In 1939 she returned to Glasgow to study medicine, supporting herself by demonstrating at the university and at the Anderson College of Medicine, and running coaching classes in zoology for her fellow medical students. She qualified in 1944, and after junior hospital appointments she went on to the National Hospitals for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, London, to be trained in neuropathology by J G Greenfield [Munk's Roll, Vol.5, p.164].

Her research work has contributed to our basic knowledge of the human brain, cerebellum and spinal cord. As her work was on man, it was immediately useful to neurosurgeons carrying out pain-relieving operations and stereotactic operations for Parkinsonism and other movement disorders. She was consulted by veterinary, and human, neuropathologists for her opinion of anatomy, and was often asked to try and find degeneration of nerve fibres within the central nervous system, that must have occurred but could not be demonstrated. She developed and made great use of the Marchi method of staining degenerating nerve fibres, so that it became an excellent tool for investigating the human nervous system with both surgical and naturally occurring lesions.

Marion Smith was married to Stephen Sherwood, a neurosurgeon who was mainly interested in research; he predeceased her. They had two daughters, one of whom is a dermatologist and the other an architect.

One of her main interests was the British Neuropathological Society, of which she was a founder member, then secretary from 1960-68, and later president from 1977-79. Her wise counsel during a period of considerable changes was invaluable to the society. She was also secretary-general of the International Society of Neuropathology. 1970-78, and an enthusiastic member of the Harveian Society, of which she eventually became secretary and president.

She was known in private life as ‘Dr Sherwood’ and was an amusing and warm-hearted woman. She had a great number of friends to whom she meant a great deal. She kept up a large correspondence with those who lived abroad and many of them, of different generations, would often stay with her in her London home and at the small house she had in Wiltshire. At the latter, she worked strenuously in the garden up to and including the last few months of her life. Her affection extended to her dogs and cats, of which there were usually at least four. In a very busy - perhaps one should say ‘hectic’ - life, she also found time to read and listen to music.

Marion died from pulmonary embolism following a shunt operation for low pressure hydrocephalus at the National Hospital, where she had worked for most of her life.

PW Nathan

[The Independent, 8 Nov 1988;The Times, 2 Nov 1988; Lancet, 1988,2,1376]

(Volume VIII, page 476)

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