Lives of the fellows

Wilson Smith

b.1 June 1897 d.10 July 1965
MB ChB Manch(1923) Dip Bact Manch(1927) MD Manch(1929) FRS(1949) *FRCP(1959)

Wilson Smith, a pioneer in safe and effective vaccines, was born at Great Harwood, Lancashire, to John Howard Smith, a draper, and Nancy, daughter of David Baron, a baker. In 1916 he left Accrington Grammar School to serve as a private in the 107th Field Ambulance until 1919, when he entered the Manchester Medical School. Following two years spent in general practice and as a ship’s surgeon he took the course in bacteriology under Professor Topley before joining the staff of the National Institute for Medical Research, then under the direction of Sir Henry Dale, thus laying the foundation of his interest in modern virology.

With S. R. Douglas he did new work on vaccinia virus, and in 1933 with Andrewes and Laidlaw made the outstanding contribution to the study of influenza that led to the pattern he set for subsequent researches by growing the virus on fertile hen’s eggs and tissue cultures.

From 1939 to 1946, when he was professor of bacteriology at Sheffield and honorary bacteriologist to the Royal, the Children’s and the Jessop Hospitals, and to the Royal Infirmary, he showed brilliant qualities as a teacher and administrator while continuing his researches. With J. H. Hale he did brilliant work on staphylococcal coagulase, with Sir Paul Fildes on botulismus toxin, and with Andrew Wilson on the effect of gorse extract on the uterus. All this he did while responsible for most of the local bacteriological work with a depleted staff and while acting as regional adviser in pathology to the Emergency Medical Service.

In 1946 he was elected to the chair of bacteriology at University College Hospital. There he built up an excellent department and yet found time to serve on the Medical Research Council and on many expert committees. In 1960 he retired, but continued his virological studies at the Microbiological Research Establishment at Porton. Such triumphant work, that stemmed from a passionate concern for the truth and a generous and unselfish nature, brought him many loyal colleagues and friends as well as honours.

He was elected F.R.S, in 1949 and was the Society’s vice-president and Leeuwenhoek lecturer. He was given the Graham gold medal of London University in 1960. Between 1949 and 1952 he was president of the sections of pathology and comparative pathology of the Royal Society of Medicine, and in 1951 Bengue memorial award lecturer and Sidney Ringer lecturer at University College. At the College he was Ambuj Nath Bose prizeman in 1959, and was to have given the Croonian lecture in 1965.

In 1927 he married Muriel Mary, daughter of George Arthur Nutt, a solicitor. They had two daughters.

Richard R Trail

* He was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

[Biogr.Mem.Roy.Soc., 1966, 12, 479-87 (p), bibl.; Brit.med.J., 1965, 2, 240 (p); J.Path.Bact., 1968, 95, 326-36 (p); Lancet, 1965,2,191-2 (p); Nature (Lond.), 1965, 207, 1130-31; Times, 14, 22 July 1965; Vet. Rec., 1965, 77, 906.]

(Volume V, page 385)

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