Lives of the fellows

Matthew John Stewart

b.4 May 1885 d.7 November 1956
CBE(1951) MB ChB Glasg(1907) LLD Glasg(1938) Hon MD Melb(1951) *FRCP(1924) FRFPS(1932)

Matthew Stewart was born in Dalmellington, Ayrshire, the son of William Ritchie Stewart, a grocer, who was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for his work on local history and folklore, and Mary McKie, the daughter of a shepherd. He was educated at the local school and at the University of Glasgow where he was Brunton memorial prizeman as the most distinguished graduate of his year. While at Ruchill Fever Hospital under Samson Gemmell he learned the value of statistical methods from John Brownlee before working on pathology with J. H. Teacher, and so was well-fitted for the appointment of clinical pathologist to Leeds Infirmary in 1910. Shortly afterwards he joined the University staff.

Following service in World War I as a pathologist to the East Leeds War Hospital and to the 59th General Hospital in Northern France, he was appointed to the chair of pathology, which he held from 1918 until his retirement in 1950. From 1941 to 1948 he was dean of the medical faculty, and from 1942 to 1958 he represented the University on the General Medical Council. He had been pro-vice-chancellor from 1939 to 1941.

He also served on the Medical Research Council, doing especially good work for the Arsenic Committee and the Committee on Industrial Pulmonary Disease. No outside work, however, was allowed to interfere with that of his department, which became the Mecca of postgraduate students of pathology; no doubt many of them had heard of his contributions to the Pathological Advisory Committee of the National Radium Commission and to the histological panel of the British Empire Cancer Campaign, and of the valuable advice he gave as a trustee of the Hunterian Collection of the Royal College of Surgeons.

A keen observer rather than an experimentalist, endowed with a remarkable visual memory and a mastery of English, he wrote on subjects ranging from cellular foreign-body reactions, cholesterin deposits and myeloid tumours in tendon sheaths, to chordoma, liver damage in munition workers, asbestosis and silicosis. In particular he is remembered as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology from 1934. He was external examiner to the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews, Wales and Belfast, to the Conjoint Board and to the Faculty of Radiologists.

Such devoted work was recognised in honorary degrees, in the C.B.E. (1951), and in the Fellowship of the College, to which he delivered the Croonian lectures of 1931. In 1952 a plaque in his honour was unveiled in the Medical School of Leeds University, and a sum of some £2,000 given towards the foundation of a Matthew Stewart lecture.

Though retiring, kindly and humorous, he was nevertheless a strict disciplinarian. His hobbies were walking, literature, church architecture and philately. He was an authority on Burns, a member of the council of the Bronte Society, and particularly pleased to be a member of the Pepys Society. At Melbourne in 1951 he gave the Bancroft oration, ‘Medicine in Pepys’s Diary’. A connoisseur of food and wines, he was an excellent host. In 1913 he married Dr Clare Eglington, O.B.E., the daughter of Edward Eglington, a manufacturer in Lichfield. They had no family.

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..."

[Brit.med.J., 1956, 2, 1179-80 (p), 1311; J.Path.Bact., 1958, 76, 295-313 (p), bibl.; Lancet, 1956, 2, 1054-5 (p), 1220; Times, 9 Nov. 1956; Yorkshire Evening Post, 9 Nov. 1956 (p); J. T. Ingram. [Address at memorial service, Leeds, 19 Jan. 1957.] 1957.]

(Volume V, page 396)

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