Lives of the fellows

Allan William Spence

b.4 August 1900 d.28 February 1990
BA Cantab(1922) MA BCh(1926) MB(1927) MRCP(1928) FRCP(1932)

Allan William Spence was born in Bath of Scottish parents. His father was William Ritchie Spence and his mother was Emma, née Allan. He was born on the same day as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and in later life he was very conscious of this fact. When the Queen Mother laid the foundation stone of the present building of the College on 6 March 1962 and took tea afterwards, Spence was presented to her; he mentioned their joint birthday to her amusement.

He was educated at King Edward VI School at Bath which, at that time, had a strong classical interest. From there he went to Gonville and Caius, Cambridge, to read medicine. He was keen on rowing and later became captain of Caius’ Boat Club, 1922-23. From his student days at Cambridge he became known to his friends as ‘Patrick’ -perhaps because of the hero of the ballad ‘Sir Patrick Spence’.

He came down to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, to do his clinical medicine and there he did extremely well. He was Brackenbury scholar in medicine in 1926, won the Lawrence research scholarship and gold medal in 1929-30, and in 1938 he won the Cattlin research fellowship at Bart’s. After graduation he became a house physician in 1927, demonstrator of physiology 1928-30 and demonstrator of pathology 1930-31.

In 1930 he married Martha Lena, herself a Scot and daughter of Hugh Hamilton Hutchison JP of Girvan, Ayrshire. She had great charm, intelligence and elegance and was much loved by everybody who knew her. It was a happy marriage, they had two sons, and Lena made a great contribution to Patrick’s successful career.

In 1931, Spence obtained a Rockefeller travelling fellowship. He and his wife spent the next year in the United States, where he worked with David Marine. The latter was at that time the greatest American thyroid research scientist and had been responsible for the introduction of iodised salt for the prevention of goitre.

After his return to Britain, Spence was appointed first assistant to the medical professorial unit at Bart’s, 1933-36, and then assistant director to F R Fraser, later Sir Francis [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.141] from 1936-37. In 1937 he was appointed assistant physician, then physician in charge of a medical firm, and subsequently senior physician at Bart’s until his retirement in 1965. He was also physician at King George Hospital, Ilford, and from 1946-65 physician to the Luton and Dunstable Hospital.

He retained his interest in the thyroid and was a member of the MRC advisory committee on iodine deficiency and thyroid disease from 1933-39, and on hormones from 1937-41.

In 1941 he had joined the Army as honorary lieutenant colonel RAMC and saw service in North Africa and Greece; from 1943-45 he was officer commanding a medical division, 97th General Hospital. His colleagues, his juniors, and especially his patients never failed to praise his devotion to duty and the dedicated service he gave.

On demobilization, many more appointments and honours followed, some of them obviously connected with his special interests: he became a foundation member of the Society of Endocrinology, a foundation member of the London Thyroid Club, president of the section of endocrinology of the Royal Society of Medicine, a member of the Physiological Society, 1935-52, and an emeritus member of the Endocrine Society of the USA.

He was appointed an examiner in medicine to the University of Cambridge, 1946-53, examiner in therapeutics to the University of London, 1953-57, examiner in medicine to the Society of Apothecaries of London, 1947-52, and to the Conjoint examining board in England, 1955-59. He was elected to the fellowship of the Faculty of Anaesthetists RCS, 1964-66. He became a trustee of the Peel Medical Research Trust, 1961-85, and was a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Endocrinology, 1956-63. He was also a Liveryman of the Society of Apothecaries of London and a Freeman of the City of London.

Spence contributed many publications to medical journals, but his most satisfactory publication was his magnum opus - his book on Clinical endocrinology, New York, Hoeber, 1953, which proved a great success. It was also translated into Spanish.

‘Patrick’ Spence was of slight build but had a most expressive face. He had a brilliant, logical and analytical mind and absolute intellectual honesty. Once he was satisfied that one of his juniors was loyal to his chosen profession, loyal to his medical school and to himself, he would give every possible help and support. He also had a puckish sense of humour and an unfailing sense of courtesy. He never signed a request form for x-rays or laboratory tests without adding the words ' . . if you please’ and insisted that his juniors should do the same.

Apart from his professional interests and, in his younger days, rowing - at one time he had coached the Bart’s boat crew - he was very fond of gardening. Occasionally, his friends followed with some anxiety his daring exploits high up in a tree, on a flimsy ladder. He was also a voracious reader of history and biography; his knowledge of these subjects was quite astounding.

His last days were saddened by the illness and death of his wife in 1981, and by his own quite crippling illness during his last two years, borne with fortitude.

His elder son became a barrister and Queen’s Counsel, his younger son a university lecturer in English in New Zealand. Before he died, he was very pleased to know that his granddaughter - an undergraduate at Gonville and Caius College - is also an active member of Caius Boat Club.

V C Medvei

(Volume IX, page 496)

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