Lives of the fellows

Denis Naldrett White

b.10 June 1916 d.7 May 1993
MA MB BChir Cantab(1940) MRCP(1944) MD(1940) FACP(1954)) FRCP(1975)

Denis White was born in Bristol, the son of Percy Walter White, a surgeon. He was educated at Clifton College and studied medicine at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, undertaking his clinicals at The London Hospital. After qualification he held a post as first assistant at The London, and subsequently became a registrar at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Maida Vale, and later a senior registrar at the University of London Institute of Psychiatry. In 1948 he was recruited by W Ford Connell, head of the department of medicine at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

In Canada, Denis White pioneered the development of subspecialty neurology practice at Queen s. He established the first EEG laboratory in Eastern Ontario; first in Kingston and later a second in Ottawa. He took over the faculty course in physical diagnosis and managed it superbly, so that it became one of the enduring strengths of Queen’s medical faculty. He was an outstanding teacher and his tenacity and dedication made a lasting impact on a generation of medical students. For those interested in neurosciences there were lively discussions at his home, with one of the first homemade stereophonic sound systems in the background. Many of Queen’s graduates remember him with great affection.

In 1960 he was appointed professor of neurology at Queen’s and the recruitment of additional neurologists to the faculty relieved him of his heavy clinical and teaching responsibilities. He took the opportunity to pursue his long-standing interest in the application of the principles of physics to medical technology. Initial studies in cerebral mid-line echography were followed by research into pulsatile echoencephalography and a hypothesis of the cause of hydrocephalus. In the 1970s, his work involved development of ultrasonic Doppler imaging and the innovation of colour coding determined by peak frequency of Doppler-shifted signals, the basis for contemporary angiodiography. He met periodic resistence to his projects from conventional research funding agencies, who often thought that his projects fell outside their mandate, but his critical self-analysis and meticulous attention to methodology provided convincing confirmation of many of his hypotheses and led to international recognition.

In 1973, Denis White was nominated by the World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology to be the founding editor of its journal Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, which became a leader in its field. His inaugural editorial emphasized the collaborative nature of research which would be essential for a successful future for research in this subject, and he practised what he preached. He continued as editor in chief until 1992, when illness forced him to relinquish his role and he became editor emeritus. His publications included authorship or co-authorship of seven books, editorship of a further 10, and some 90 scientific papers many of which stand as seminal works in their field. He was an honorary member of the Japanese, Yugoslav, Mexican and World Societies for ultrasound in medicine and biology.

Denis was one of a small number of clinicians, following the second world war, who established the foundation of contemporary neurology in Canada. He played a formative role in the creation of the Canadian Neurological Society. Yet the multidisciplinary nature of his research eventually kept him more in the company of engineers, acoustics specialists and biologists; company he very much enjoyed. He was a strong supporter of human rights long before the term became fashionable and this, together with a healthy scepticism about the motives of administrators, often led to lively exchanges with bureaucracy. The most prestigious of his numerous honours was the Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine.

He married Elizabeth Hogg, daughter of a fellow physician, in 1938 and they had four children. They were a closely knit family and his wife worked with him for many years, providing great assistance in his editorial responsibilities. Those who follow him will benefit for many years to come from the foundation he built and the standards he set.

H B Dinsdale

[Canadian J.of Neurological Sciences, 1993,p.341]

(Volume IX, page 575)

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