Lives of the fellows

Robert Henry Stewart Thompson

b.2 February 1912 d.15 January 1998
FRS(1974) LMSSA Lond(1937) DM Oxon(1942) FRCPath(1964) FRCP(1969)

Robert Henry Stewart Thompson was the former director of the Courtauld Institute, Middlesex Hospital, London, and an eminent biochemist. He was born in Croydon, the son of Joseph Henry Thompson, a medical practitioner, and Mary Eleanor née Rutherford, the daughter of a doctor, who later developed multiple sclerosis. He was educated at St Anselm's School in Croydon and in 1925 won an open scholarship to Epsom College. He went on to Oxford, as a Millard scholar in natural science, where he gained a first class degree in physiology. He then went to Guy's Hospital. From 1937 to 1938 he held the Adrian Stokes travelling fellowship from Guy's and the Gillson scholarship in pathology from the Society of Apothecaries to spend a year at the Rockefeller Institute in New York. He then returned to Oxford as a demonstrator in biochemistry and a medical fellow at University College.

During the second world war he worked in Sir Rudolf Peters's laboratory, developing antidotes to poison gas. From 1944 to 1946 he was a major in the RAMC, undertaking field tests on poison gas.

He returned to Oxford in 1946 as dean of the medical school. A year later he was appointed to the chair of chemical pathology at Guy's medical school, where he remained until 1965, when he moved to the Courtauld Institute, Middlesex Hospital, London, as the Courtauld professor of biochemistry and director of the institute. He continued his research on the chemistry of the central nervous system, with the particular objective of finding the biochemical basis of multiple sclerosis. He also continued his involvement with the Ministry of Defence. In 1948 he was appointed to the biology committee of the Chemical Defence Advisory Board and from 1968 to 1975 he was chairman of the Defence Scientific Advisory Council.

He was a keen supporter of the Biochemical Society and was its honorary secretary from 1952 to 1955. When the International Union of Biochemistry was founded in 1955 he became the first secretary-general, a post he held for nine years. He was a member of the Medical Research Council from 1958 to 1962. As a trustee of the Wellcome Trust from 1963 he worked tirelessly, together with Sir John McMichael [Munk's Roll, Vol.IX, p.341] and Henry Barcroft [Munk's Roll, Vol.XI, web], to develop the research programme of the organisation.

He married Inge Gebert in 1938 and they had a son (James) and two daughters (Caroline and Victoria). He suffered for some years from Parkinson's disease.

[Brit.med.J. 1998,316,1392; The Biochemist June 1998; Guy's Hospital Medical Gazette March 1998; Biog. Mems. Fell. R. Soc. Lond. 44, 417-431 (1998)]

(Volume XI, page 579)

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