Lives of the fellows

Daniel (Sir) Thomson

b.30 May 1912 d.29 October 1976
Kt(1975) CB(1963) MB ChB St And(1935) DPH(1946) MD(1948) MRCP(1965) FRCP(1970)

Daniel Thomson, the son of a journalist, John Duncan Thomson, and his wife Janet Simpson McFadyen, daughter of Lachlan McFadyen, a master mason, was born at Dundee, and went to school at Downfield and subsequently at the Dundee High School. He was a medical student at St Andrews University and the Dundee Royal Infirmary, and qualified in 1935. He did various house jobs at his teaching hospital and at the Radcliffe Infirmary (1937) and the North Middlesex Hospital (1938) and he went into the RAMC in 1940. He saw action in the desert with a field ambulance, and was DADMS in Palestine and the Middle East Headquarters. Later he commanded a hospital in Scottish Command at Fort George.

Thomson entered the service of the Surrey County Council in 1947 and joined the Ministry of Health in 1950. He was attached to the epidemiology division with WH Bradley, where he worked on many infectious disease problems, including whooping cough, tuberculosis and poliomyelitis, and he contributed largely to departmental policy in these fields, with his historical background and incisive understanding of communicable disease. He was very concerned that medical objectives to improve the standard of life should not be superseded by technical advances, and that hospitals should not improve at the expense of general practice. In 1958 he became deputy chief medical officer with responsibility for local government medical matters, including epidemiology, civil defence (where he contributed much good sense to what others were apt to regard as tiresome distraction) and medical education. He also made several exhausting but important trips to the Middle East for the Foreign Office. He fulfilled these duties with much distinction, was made Queen’s honorary physician (1962 —1965) and delivered the Milroy lecture to the College in 1966 on ‘Mass immunization in the control of infectious diseases’ which was published in the British Medical Journal the same year. He was president of the section of epidemiology at the Royal Society of Medicine in 1964. Other publications during this period include ‘The ebb and flow of infections’ (1955); ‘The changing pattern of disease’ (1957); ‘Whooping cough, a review’ (1953); ‘Non-paralytic poliomyelitis’ (1954); ‘Poliomyelitis in the neonatal period’ (1954), and ‘Changes in epidemiology and preventive medicine’ (1965).

It was with great regret, tinged with pride, that the Ministry of Health lost him when he became the Treasury medical adviser. This switch might be regarded by some as a step down - the DCMO post had great implications for the National Health Service — but the TMA post meant an independent command and had enormous possibilities too, of which he took full advantage. The post became that of medical adviser to the Civil Service in 1968; he was still occupying it at the time of his sudden death. He took with him his old interest in epidemiology and seized the marvellous opportunities of the captive Civil Service population, publishing ‘Sickness absence in the Civil Service’ in 1970. He had many epidemiological projects in progress or in the pipeline when he died, particularly in the field of cardiovascular disease, work done with DD Reid. But the Civil and Foreign Service will not only remember him as an epidemiologist. He was above all a doctor, concerned as much with the mind as with the body, and many people can testify to the infinite trouble he took with individuals in medical need. Ambassadors, permanent secretaries, principals, executive officers, clerical officers, messengers — no one looked in vain for help; and the most careful medical examination, diagnosis, treatment and aftercare was insisted upon.

His hobbies included walking and travelling, especially with his wife and two sons, and he was always curious about different ways of life and in the continuum of life, which was reflected in his keen interest in his own background; he ancestors came from the Hebrides and Argyllshire and he was a real Scot. He always spent a part of the holidays in Argyllshire with his family. But his work was also his relaxation and he gave his undivided enthusiasm to everything he did.

Tommy (no one ever called him Daniel) was a very rare person whose death shocked everyone. He was very Scottish, with his forthright expression of opinion and his highly developed and sometimes mischievous sense of humour. He was a loyal and good friend and a man of great integrity and honesty, who never said what he did not believe, or said behind anyone’s back what he was not prepared to say to their faces. A first rate doctor, an admirable administrator and an outstandingly lovable person - that was Tommy.

He married in 1946 Dorothy Violet Coles, the daughter of Arthur Coles, a solicitor, and they had two sons. He died at home in Worplesdon, Surrey, very suddenly.

Dame Albertine Winner

[Brit.med.J., 1976, 2, 1204; Lancet, 1976, 2, 1094; Times, 30 Oct 1976]

(Volume VII, page 577)

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