Lives of the fellows

Ian Bruce Sneddon

b.6 March 1915 d.10 October 1987
CBE(1974) MB ChB Sheff(1937) MRCP(1941) FRCP(1956) Hon MD Sheff(1980)

Ian Bruce Sneddon was born in Sheffield and lived there for most of his life. His father William was a Scottish general practitioner who had set up in practice in the city, and his mother was Kathleen Hield. His father died when Ian was still a schoolboy; he always remained proud of his Scottish ancestry.

Ian was educated at Uppingham School and graduated in medicine from the University of Sheffield. His first medical appointment was as house physician to Edward Wayne, later Sir Edward, and Rupert Hallam [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.169] at Sheffield Royal Infirmary. The derma-tological side of this post was to influence the rest of his life, and after other house jobs he returned to the skin department in 1938 as clinical assistant. This was followed by appointment as registrar to Robert Platt, later Lord Platt [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.470], a post which was interrupted by the outbreak of the second world war.

As Sneddon was in the RNVR he was called up immediately, and after serving two years at sea he was made a skin and medical specialist. Part of the rest of his naval service was spent in the Pacific, some of the time in Australia, and his love of sailing started in dinghies on the waters of Sydney Harbour. A fellow sailor was C A Clarke, later Sir Cyril and a former president of the College, and at that time they produced a paper and film on nutritional neuropathy in prisoners of war.

Sneddon returned to Sheffield when he was demobilized in 1946 and intended to specialize in general medicine, but he obtained the post of supernumerary registrar in the skin department at the Royal Infirmary and later that year accepted a consultant post in the department. At the same time, he was appointed honorary clinical lecturer in the medical school. He was a popular and enthusiastic teacher, and his interest in and concern for young people led to his becoming clinical dean in 1950. While holding this appointment he initiated a tutorial system for the medical students which provided them with a member of the consultant staff to whom they could turn for advice.

Sneddon’s description, with Wilkinson, of subcorneal pustular dermatosis (Sneddon-Wilkinson Disease) brought him eponymous fame and gave him a special interest in blistering eruptions, about which he wrote numerous papers and chapters in books. But his interests in dermatology were wide, jointly with R E Church he wrote a small textbook, Practical Dermatology, London, Arnold, 1964, which went into four editions, and about 100 articles on various aspects of skin disease. A fluent and witty speaker, he was in constant demand as a lecturer and gave the Dowling Club oration in 1957, the Watson Smith lecture in 1963, and the Thom Bequest lecture in Edinburgh in 1968. He also gave numerous invited lectures all over the world.

Ian Sneddon was president of the British Association of Dermatologists at the time of its 50th anniversary in 1970, and of the section of dermatology of the Royal Society of Medicine 1980-81. He was subsequently made an honorary member of both the Association and the Section. At various times he was president of the North of England Dermatological Society and of the Sheffield Medico-Chirurgical Society. He was awarded the CBE in 1974, and when he retired in 1980 Sheffield University gave him an honorary MD.

In 1946 he married Joan, daughter of George Simon, an engineer, and they had three daughters and two sons. Joan, also a Sheffield graduate in medicine, was co-author of some of his papers on the psychiatric aspects of skin disease, and one of his sons qualified in medicine.

Small in stature, and bald from an early age, his appearance seemed almost unaltered by the passing years. Like many of his build, what he lacked in height he made up for in energy and determination. Brought up in the northern work ethic, he continued in private practice and in the writing of articles until the end. A coronary thrombosis in 1968 caused him to relinquish the office of clinical dean and impeded his interest in gardening, but made no difference to his enthusiasm for dermatology or for participation in its affairs. Sailing remained his main interest outside medicine; he graduated from dinghies to a 10-tonner which he kept at Cowes, and he sailed to France and back for the last time shortly before he died. In his last year he passed the examination for Yachtmaster’s Certificate, an achievement of which he was very proud. Fly-fishing and painting were among his other interests.

In every branch of medicine each generation produces one or two figures of outstanding ability, to train and advise the young and set the standards of the specialty. In his day Ian Sneddon was such a figure in dermatology.

RE Church

[Lancet, 1987,2,1039; 1987,295,1356]

(Volume VIII, page 478)

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