Lives of the fellows

Robert Heywood Seville

b.26 May 1920 d.16 January 2002
MB Leeds(1944) MD(1948) MRCP(1950) FRCP(1973)

Bob Seville's great interest as a dermatologist was psoriasis. He was fascinated by the aetiology of this condition, especially the possible link between mental stress and the onset of the disease and also the effects of the skin disease on the patient. He was also an investigator of the methods of treatment available in the 1970s.

He was born at Oulton near Leeds. His father was a civil engineer but other members of his family, including an uncle, were in the medical profession. He was educated at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefied, and went to his local university at Leeds to study medicine. He qualified in 1944 and later obtained his MD. At Leeds he worked for Ingram in the skin department who greatly influenced his career choice in medicine. After his junior post in Leeds, he saw service in the RAMC in the UK and also in the India Command, from 1944 to 1946. Later he became senior medical officer on troop ships with the rank of major.

After his army service he moved to London and was appointed senior registrar to Bettley, McKenna and Dowling [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.163]. He became an enthusiastic member of the Dowling Club and he organized the club's visit to Lancaster in 1973. In addition to attending meetings of the dermatology section of the Royal Society of Medicine and lectures at the College, he was a strong supporter of the North of England Dermatological Society. He was president of that society in 1975.

For many years he worked as a single-handed specialist covering a wide area, from Blackpool to Lancaster and around Morecambe Bay to Barrow-in-Furness. Gradually new appointments were made and he was able to concentrate on Lancaster where he developed a successful dermatology unit. He was joined there by a colleague in 1972, and he found this helpful, as he used to say that if you were working alone in a specialty you go a bit peculiar.

He carried out trials of different ointments, in particularly Dithranol compounds in various bases to find out which was the most effective. Fortunately, with locally applied preparations the human body can be divided into left and right sides, and he was able to use one side of the patient as a control. He involved all the ward staff in the assessment of the results and they had a secret vote to determine which side of the patient had the better result. He was able to follow up his patients and find out which treatment gave the longest remission after in-patient therapy. He soon discovered that local steroid preparations gave a rapid remission, followed by rapid relapse and there was a danger of making the patient worse with this treatment. This fact seems to have been forgotten by many in the specialty today.

His interest in the psychological aspects of the onset of psoriasis was more difficult to investigate, and objections could always be found to the methodology. However, he tried, and though he himself was convinced of the link, there were often valid objections to this view. His work is usually quoted in works on stress and psoriasis. Over the years he contributed over a dozen articles to the literature. Bob Seville's pioneering role in understanding the psychosocial disability suffered by patients with psoriasis was ahead of its time and was fundamental to our understanding of the important relationship between skin and psyche.

He was in advance of his time in that he believed that the diet you took greatly influenced your general health; a pharmaceutical company representative who called to see him never got over being offered raw carrots with his coffee. Bob was also a connoisseur of locally brewed beers and his great favourite was Theakston's bitter.

Away from dermatology Bob's interests were in mountaineering, photography, railways (real and model) and the piano. He was an active member of the Fell and Rock Club of the English Lake District and was always on the Lakeland fells when he could manage the time. He pioneered a new route at Shepherd's Crag in 1955. His interest in railways was such that he often went to dermatology clinics and meetings by train. For his two sons he built a model railway in the roof of his house and he took them recording the sound of steam trains going over Shap before they were replaced by diesel traction. Bob's piano playing was usually of the popular classics, but he had liberal tastes in music.

Robert Seville married Elizabeth Gibb in 1950. They had two sons, one predeceased him and the other, Malcolm, is a general practitioner in Morecambe. Bob and Elizabeth divorced in 1974. He married Hazel Sayer in 1980, who survives him.

During the whole of his professional life Bob Seville was interested in the conundrum of psoriasis; he would be excited to hear of recent developments in our understanding of this disease.

D B Brookes

(Volume XI, page 509)

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