Lives of the fellows

Andrew Topping

b.20 December 1890 d.28 August 1955
TD(1933) CMG(1954) MA Aberd(1911) MB ChB Aberd(1914) DPH Aberd(1923) FRSE(1938) MRCP(1942) FRCP(1946)

Andrew Topping, the son of Robert Topping, M.A., an inspector in the Scottish Education Department, and Robina, daughter of Robert Bayne, a chartered accountant of Edinburgh, was born in Aberdeen and educated there at Robert Gordon’s College and the University. He took a very active part in student affairs as a member of the golf, football and water polo teams, as colour-sergeant of the University contingent of the 4th Battalion Gordon Highlanders (T.A.), and as president of the Students’ Representative Council.

In World War I he served in the R.A.M.C, in France, Gallipoli and Mesopotamia until 1919, and after three years as senior medical officer to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company at Abadan returned to Aberdeen to take his D.P.H. Following public health appointments at Woolwich and in Lancashire he became medical officer of health to the county borough of Rochdale, where between 1930 and 1932 he organised an experiment on maternal mortality with such success that the average rate of 8 per 1,000 live births was reduced to 3*5 in the next three years. With equal zest he directed a concerted effort towards the reduction of venereal diseases.

In 1932 he joined the staff of the London County Council as medical superintendent of the Southern Fever Hospital, and from 1933 to 1939 was a senior medical officer in charge of special hospitals and of the then rapidly extending laboratory services. By his outstanding capacity for establishing good personal relationships with all grades of staff he brought cohesion and liveliness into the medical services. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II he was appointed deputy to Sir Allen Daley. For five years he maintained the Council’s health, hospital and ambulance services, and with Sir Archibald Gray conducted the survey of the hospitals of Greater London, the report of which was published in 1945.

In 1944 Topping accepted the temporary post of director of the European health division of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and welded the staff of over 1,000 from thirty countries with such success that in 1945 he became deputy-director and played a major part in the rehabilitation of European health services. After a short time at the Ministry of Health and as lecturer in public health at Charing Cross Hospital and external examiner for the Universities of London, Aberdeen, Durham and Belfast, he was appointed the first professor of preventive and social medicine at Manchester, but resigned in 1950 to become the first full time dean of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

There he developed the School’s association with the Commonwealth by going on extensive tours through East and West Africa and serving on the London University Committee on Higher Education in the Colonies. For this work he received the C.M.G, in 1954. He also served on the Army Health Advisory Committee and was chairman of the Archway Group Hospital Management Committee. He published many articles on fevers (his specialty), on maternal mortality, on hospital administration, and on European health problems, of which he had an unusual experience.

Topping’s success as an administrator was as much due to his capacity for friendliness as to his alert mind and his felicity in the spoken and written word, but it is unlikely that he would have been popular with the profession as chief medical officer of the Ministry when it came to discussions on the new National Health Service. He made strong claims on behalf of preventive medicine, but denigrated the part to be played by specialist consultants and advocated a whole-time salaried service for general practitioners.

In 1914 he married Alfreda Margaret Wood, M.A. (Aberd.), the daughter of A. Lyon Wood, a chemist in Stonehaven. Their younger son was killed in an accident while a schoolboy; the elder son and their daughter qualified in medicine.

Richard R Trail

[, 1955, 2, 622-4 (p), 684; J. trop. Med., 1955, 58, 220-21; Lancet, 1955, 2, 511-13 (p), 568-9; Roy. Soc. Prom. Hlth J., 1955, 75, 781-2.]

(Volume V, page 418)

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