Lives of the fellows

Charles David Marsden

b.15 April 1938 d.29 September 1998
BSc Lond(1959) MSc(1960) MB BS(1963) MRCP(1965) FRCP(1975) MRCPsych(1980) FRS (1983) DSc(1983)

David Marsden was an international authority on neurological disorders affecting movement, particularly Parkinson’s disease. Born the son of a surgeon, he was educated at (and, it was rumoured, expelled from) Cheltenham College. He went on to St Thomas's Hospital to study medicine. Whilst there he obtained a BSc (with first class honours) and also an MSc with a thesis on Pigmentation in the substantia nigra, before graduating MB BS in 1963.

Within three years he was a lecturer in medicine, within five he was senior resident house physician at the National Hospital, Queen Square, and within seven years he was senior lecturer. At the age of 34 he was appointed to the newly established chair in neurology at the Institute of Psychiatry, with consultant appointments at the Maudsley and King's College Hospitals. During his tenure, David established research teams in neuropharmacology and the MRC Human Movement and Balance Unit (HMBU), which concentrated on neurophysiological and neuropsychological studies of basal ganglia disease, and also the UK Parkinson's Disease Society (PDS) Brain Bank.

From the very beginning David attracted as research fellows from all over the world a stream of bright and dedicated young neurologists in training who are now leaders in the field of movement disorders in their own countries. Among many contributions, David helped develop evoked responses and transcranial electrical and magnetic stimulation of the brain, and recognised the importance of long-latency reflexes in maintaining posture. He described many new neurological syndromes and diseases, and was instrumental in recognising and classifying the dystonias as neurological, rather than psychiatric, diseases. His work on the consequences of neuroleptic drug treatments straddled the two disciplines, and he was awarded the MRCPsych. The magnitude of his contributions to neuroscience was recognised by his election to FRS in 1983, and the award of a DSc. His 17 years south of the river were celebrated by a two day Festschrift in 1987 before he returned to Queen Square to take up the chair of clinical neurology.

At Queen Square, he expanded the department, continued his direction of the relocated MRC HMBU and PDS Brain Bank, and also continued a heavy clinical commitment which was the basis and inspiration of his research. In 1995 he resigned the chair to become dean of the Institute of Neurology, from which position he stepped down in September 1998 to begin a one year sabbatical (his first) as Fogarty scholar at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, USA, where he died suddenly and unexpectedly after only four weeks in residence.

David's research output was phenomenal, totalling more than 1100 publications, including over 800 full papers. He held 40 visiting professorships, and was on the councils of the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Physicians. He edited the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry for a decade, and was on the editorial boards of a further 21 journals. However, the activity of which he was most proud, and for which he will be best remembered around the world, was his establishment, together with Stanley Fahn from New York, of the journal Movement Disorders, and of the Movement Disorder Society, whose 5th International Congress in New York a month after his death attracted a record number of people.

David was an inspiring teacher and a man of great scientific integrity and intellectual honesty. Despite his brilliance and success on the world stage, he was at heart a rather shy and private man who, away from work, doted on his children and relaxed with bird watching, gardening, music and sailing. However, his stamina and capacity as a bon viveur were also legendary, and few others could sustain the pace he set.

He married his first wife Jill (née Bullock) in 1961. They had five children, one of whom also experienced a sudden unexpected death. Subsequently, he married Jenny (née Sandom), with whom he had three daughters.

Niall Quinn

[The Daily Telegraph 17 Oct 1998; The Independent 21 Oct 1998; The Times 21 Oct 1998;, 1998,317,1661; MRC News Winter/Spring 1999,p.34]

(Volume XI, page 378)

<< Back to List