Lives of the fellows

Harold Charles Stewart

b.25 November 1906 d.7 December 2001
CBE MB BChir Cantab(1931) MRCP(1949) MD PhD Lond FRCP(1968)

Harold Stewart was one of a band of pioneers who established pharmacology as a separate specialty in medical schools and universities, and his own interests ranged from academic research to clinical medicine. He came from a medical family, qualified in 1931 from Cambridge and University College Hospital, London, and was initially in general practice in Barnet. Here he studied for his MD and in 1936 was able to join the department of physiology at St Mary's Hospital Medical School, as a research fellow, with support from the Sir Halley Stewart Trust.

At St Mary's he joined A C Frazer [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.186], whose interest was physical chemistry, and together they produced a series of papers on fat absorption and lipaemia and the study of the various kinds of chylomicrons of lacteals and plasma which can be visualized by dark field microscopy. It was concluded that the particles contained true glycerides, and the smallest showed Brownian movement. Samples were taken from human volunteers and supplemented by experiments on anaesthetized rats and rabbits. There was at this time speculation as to the mechanism of fat absorption, whether as fine emulsions or by initial lipolysis followed by resynthesis, and the latter mechanism was established at a somewhat later date when esters of labelled glycerine had become available.

A St G Huggett had come to St Mary's as professor of physiology in 1935, and a heavy teaching load in physiology, pharmacology and histology with long practical classes was carried by Huggett, Frazer and Stewart, which meant that research was continued after hours, at weekends or in the vacation. Frazer and Stewart later encouraged a group of collaborators from the colloid science department, Cambridge, and the pharmacology department at the University of Birmingham, supported by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, to join in a quantitative approach and in 1945 a paper was published on preferential absorption of proteins at charged oil-water interfaces.

Stewart progressed up the teaching ranks as senior lecturer and, in 1949, as reader in pharmacology. By this time the post-war expansion in the University had begun and next year saw the emergence of a separate department of pharmacology led by Stewart. As head of the department he did not pursue his initial studies but he was able to select staff who were productive in research publications, and a steady stream of post-graduate students were trained in research, and the courses in pharmacology and therapeutics were popular with students.

He maintained his interest in clinical medicine as graded consultant in the diabetic department of St Mary's Hospital, and found himself invited to serve in other organizations, including the Asthma Research Council, the Medical Council on Alcoholism and the Commonwealth Council. He was the author of several standard texts, including Drugs in anaesthetic practice (London, Butterworths, 1962) with F G Wood-Smith and Concise antibiotic treatment (London, Butterworths, 1970) with W Howard Hughes. Both had several editions. Stewart was professor of pharmacology at the University of London from 1965 to 1974, and was for a time Gresham professor in physic at Gresham College.

In his youth he had been a sportsman, with a half blue at Cambridge in lacrosse, and county colours in lawn tennis for Hertfordshire. Stewart was a versatile and public-spirited character. A pre-war territorial volunteer, he joined the local defence volunteers (precursor of the Home Guard) in the hectic summer of 1940. As a major in the RAMC he commanded the University of London student training corps from 1943 to 1946. He later became deputy lieutenant for the City of London and consultant in pharmacology for the ministry of defence. In the St John's Ambulance Brigade he became principal medical officer and director general of the St John Ambulance Association.

At St Mary's he was a helpful and sagacious commentator, with the ability to succeed in anything he attempted. He was helped at various times by the Halley Stewart Trust, of which he eventually became president. His life was one of high achievement and advancement of his subject. He married twice and his son became an MP and a life peer.

R Creese

(Volume XI, page 553)

<< Back to List