Lives of the fellows

David Henry Morgan Woollam

b.12 August 1921 d.19 November 1986
BA Cantab(1941) MA(1945) MRCS LRCP(1948) MB BChir(1949) MRCP(1949) ScD(1964) FRCP(1972)

David Woollam was born at Caldecote, Northamptonshire. His mother was Mollie Duncan Smith, daughter of an Australian landowner, and his father, Harry Morgan Woollam, was a company director. After early education in Australia, he went to the John Lyon School at Harrow and later, with a classical exhibition scholarship, to Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he got first class honours in the natural sciences tripos. His clinical work was undertaken at St George’s Hospital, where he was a senior scholar. After some house appointments he devoted his life to anatomy, at Cambridge University; first as university demonstrator 1950-53 and then as lecturer 1953-82. He became a fellow of Emmanuel College in 1959, and was subsequently domestic bursar, tutor, and director of studies in medicine. He also held the latter post at his old college, Peterhouse.

During his time at Cambridge he was the author of numerous papers on neuroanatomy, teratology, embryology, cytology and medical history. He edited Advances in teratology from 1966-72 and Experimental embryology and teratology in 1964. He was co-author with J W Millen of The Anatomy of the cerebrospinal fluid London, OUP, 1962 and wrote a number of annotations and leading articles for the British Medical Journal and Lancet. He was Arris and Gale lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons, 1958; Alex Bourne lecturer at St Mary’s Hospital, 1979; Milroy lecturer at the RCP in 1979, and Lichfield lecturer at Oxford in 1984.

His most notable research was probably his work, initially with J W Millen, on teratology - when he demonstrated the effects (including hydrocephalus) of vitamin A deficiency in rabbits, and later studied the action of thalidomide on experimental animals, and the foetal alcohol syndrome. After the thalidomide disaster he was consultant to the WHO and leading drug companies.

David was a man of acute intelligence who seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of anything which interested him. He was very widely read and could produce apt quotations to fit almost any situation. He also had a penetrating and sometimes irreverant sense of humour, and a remarkable ability to sense what was going on around him almost before it happened. He was essentially an ‘ideas man’ and tended to rely on others for the more manipulative aspects of research. In latter years he became somewhat frustrated by not getting the funding required to put his ideas into practice, which may also explain why he never got the readership which he undoubtedly deserved.

He had friends among London consultants, and deans of medical schools, particularly through his membership and later vice-presidency of the Cambridge Graduates Medical Club. He annually hosted lunches at Emmanuel College on the day of the Club dinner, at which valuable discussions took place between his London and Cambridge friends concerning the problems of admission of Cambridge graduates to the London clinical schools.

In 1943, while still a student, he married Margaret Leonora Harries and they had five children: two sons (one of whom died in infancy) and three daughters. He was a devoted family man and derived much strength and happiness from his close, and increasing, family circle, and the successful careers of his children. Perhaps the most fitting memorial to him is the Elizabethan Herb Garden in Emmanuel College, the creation of which was entirely due to his inspiration.

EHR Ford

[Brit.med.J., 1987,294,1237]

(Volume VIII, page 554)

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