Lives of the fellows

Michael Christopher White

b.19 June 1948 d.13 August 1995
MB BS Lond(1972) MRCP(1975) MD(1987) FRCP(1991)

Michael White’s premature death in a motorway accident has deprived Britain of one of its most innovative endocrinologists. He was born in Nairobi, Kenya, the son of a chartered surveyor, but was educated in England, at the City of London School for Boys. His passions were cricket and the classics. Cricket remained an ardent passion all his life, but A level classical studies gave way to medicine, and in 1966 he entered St Bartholomew’s Medical School. He had a distinguished undergraduate career, graduating in 1972 with honours in clinical pharmacology and applied therapeutics. As a house physician at Bart’s he worked for Michael Besser on the endocrine unit and was inspired to follow a career in endocrinology. Junior hospital medical posts followed and in 1979 he became MRC research fellow at Hammersmith Hospital, working on tissue culture studies of pituitary tumours, a research interest which continued throughout his career and formed the basis of his superb MD thesis awarded in 1987.

In 1982 Michael moved to Newcastle upon Tyne as a lecturer and an honorary senior registrar in endocrinology and diabetes at the Royal Victoria Infirmary. As well as very busy clinical and teaching duties he developed an active group of research workers for whom he attracted considerable funding, and a growing list of high quality publications followed.

A further geographical move occurred in 1988, this time to Liverpool, where Michael was appointed a consultant physician and endocrinologist to the Royal Liverpool University Hospital and clinical lecturer in the department of medicine. A major task here was to update and reorganize existing diabetes services, which he approached and carried out with typical energy and enthusiasm. He pioneered, in conjunction with the British Diabetic Association, a community mobile ambulance for diabetic retinopathy screening. This allowed patients to have retinal photographs taken at their GP surgeries, with the photographs subsequently examined at the hospital ophthalmology department. Additionally, he continued his pituitary tissue culture work, and some members of his Newcastle research team followed him to Merseyside.

Four years later in 1992, and with characteristic restlessness, Michael moved on. This time it was to Hull where he was appointed to the foundation chair of medicine at the postgraduate medical school of Hull University. He was an outstanding success in this post. His drive, foresight and innovation played a crucial role in the development of postgraduate research and education. He also set up a new medical research laboratory. His tissue culture work expanded into oncology and shortly before his death he published exciting work on the inhibiting effects of Interleukin Ill on female breast cancer cells.

Outside medicine, his eclectic tastes, unusual background and warm personality made him engaging company. His energy and zest for living were renowned; an evening in his company could be an exhausting experience, but was always memorable and never boring. He loved good food and wines and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of where these could be obtained both at home and abroad. Mike could be regarded as one of the last English eccentrics. He married Elizabeth, a radiologist, in 1975 and they had two daughters. He died in a motorway accident in Yorkshire at the age of just 47.

Geoffrey Gill

[Brit.med.J., 1995,311,1566; The Independent, 4 Nov 1995]

(Volume X, page 513)

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