Lives of the fellows

Gerald Isaac MacDonald Swyer

b.17 November 1917 d.19 September 1995
BA Oxon(1939) BM BCh(1943) DPhil(1943) MD California(1943) MRCP(1945) DM(1948) FRCP(1964) FRCOG(1975)

Gerald Swyer was an eminent endocrinologist and expert in the area of reproductive medicine. He was born in Bognor, Sussex, the son of a property investor. After attending the Grocers’ Company’s School, he received his secondary education at St Paul’s and later went on to attend St John’s College, Oxford, graduating in 1939.

Between 1940 and 1941 he was a demonstrator in anatomy and conducted research work in the laboratory with Solly (later Baron) Zuckerman [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.612] on the growth of the prostate gland, which was the subject of his DPhil thesis. He was a Rockefeller medical student at the University of California from 1941 to 1943, where he obtained his doctorate.

In 1946 he was appointed to the scientific staff of the National Institute for Medical Research. A year later he was appointed as an endocrinologist to the University College Hospital Medical School. In 1951 he became consultant endocrinologist in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at University College Hospital. In this department he established a fertility clinic and an endocrine clinic, which he directed until his retirement in 1978.

Gerald Swyer’s propensity for reproductive aspects of medicine became evident when he published Reproduction and sex (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1954). He subsequently contributed a section on the gonads in S L Simpson’s Major endocrine disorders (third edition, London/Oxford, OUP, 1959) and wrote the section on reproduction in F R Winton and L E Bayliss’ Human physiology (fifth edition, London, J A Churchill, 1962). He was a prolific writer, contributing more than two hundred papers, mostly on reproductive medicine. He was also a brilliant communicator and a regular contributor to radio and television programmes. As recognition for his outstanding work in gynaecological endocrinology, Gerald Swyer was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1975.

Gerald was the quintessential British physician. His seminal work on the evaluation of progestogenic hormones pioneered the development of the contraceptive pill in the 1950s. Not many physicians can claim to be linked eponymously to two syndromes. Jointly with Robert Greenblatt, he established the Swyer-Greenblatt delay of menses test which determined the relative potency of oral progestogens. His name is also attached to the syndrome of XY gonadal dysgenesis, which is called Swyer's syndrome.

Gerald Swyer's life was devoted to the betterment of women’s health care. After his early retirement from the NHS he became the much loved founder/chairman of Women's Health Concern (WHC), a national charity. He believed authentic health education to be the prime requirement for the effective use of medication and it was in that area - particularly in so far as womens health was concerned - that he saw the need for WHC to play a part. Over the years he trained many doctors and other health professionals to expand their knowledge of womens health care.

He held several notable positions of authority, including the chairmanship of the Society for the Study of Fertility, president of the section of endocrinology, Royal Society of Medicine, secretary general of the International Federation of Fertility Societies, scientific adviser to the World Health Organization and, between 1982 and 1986, he served on the council of the London Borough of Camden.

Gerald was not only creative in medicine, but also in music. He made musical instruments including violins and clavichords, and he loved listening to music. For recreation he enjoyed gardening, painting and playing golf. He also enjoyed dinghy sailing and he built and raced model yachts. Of his more unusual talents, he made stained glass objects and he designed the beautiful stained glass window in his home. He married Linda Irene Nash in 1945 and they had one son and one daughter.

Maurice Katz

[The Times, 6 Oct 1995; The Independent, 16 Oct 1995; The Daily Telegraph, 5 Oct 1995; Brit.med.J., 1996,312,573]

(Volume X, page 482)

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