Lives of the fellows

James Wallace Stewart

b.14 September 1921 d.10 June 2006
MB BS Lond(1944) MRCS LRCP(1944) FRCPath(1963) MRCP(1973) FRCP(1980)

James (Jimmie) Stewart belonged to that generation of haematologists which brought about the transition of haematology from a minor branch of clinical pathology to a major academic, scientific and clinical discipline. He was born in Champur, Assam, where his father, also James, was a doctor on the tea plantations. At the age of 10 he returned to England to continue his education at St George’s College, Weybridge. He entered the Middlesex Hospital Medical School as a student in 1940 and graduated in 1944. His undergraduate career was marked by a prize in practical anatomy, a student demonstratorship in pathology – and by a commitment to the medical school rugby XV, where he was a useful wing three-quarter. It is anecdotally reported that, having sustained a painful injury in one match, he decided to test the analgesic properties of wartime malt whisky; his last words to friends before lapsing into semi-coma were: “It doesn’t work”. We may conclude that he was a hard-working, but well-rounded medical student.

After qualifying, he was appointed house surgeon to Rupert Vaughan Hudson at the Middlesex, and then as junior registrar with special responsibilities in connection with clinical trials of penicillin. In this second post he was involved in the MRC trials of penicillin in the treatment of subacute bacterial endocarditis – a disease which until then was virtually always fatal. He then worked as resident pathologist in the Bland-Sutton Institute of Pathology at the Middlesex, before being called up for military service in 1946.

He served in the RAMC as a graded pathologist, entering as a lieutenant and being promoted to captain a year later. He was posted first to the Connaught Hospital in Hindhead, Surrey, where he was in charge of the pathology laboratory. He was then posted to the British Military Hospital in Accra where, in addition to running the routine clinical pathology laboratory services, he was also in charge of the venereal diseases department, with large daily out-patient clinics and 70 in-patient beds.

After leaving the Army in 1948 he returned to the Middlesex, where he spent the remainder of his professional life until retirement. He was initially appointed as an assistant pathologist in the Bland-Sutton Institute and then senior lecturer in haematology (1950), reader (1959) and finally professor (1969). It is interesting to note that it was not until 1975 that the post of director of the Bland-Sutton Institute was abolished and haematology became an independent department within the medical school.

Always an highly competent laboratory worker and a sound opinion on haematological problems, he welcomed the increasing role of the haematologist in the direct clinical care of patients during the seventies. He was involved in one of the first bone marrow transplants and in the founding of a blood transfusion service for children with thalassaemia. His academic standing was founded on his scholarship, which embraced the whole spectrum of haematology, rather than on his research, but in collaboration with others his published work included papers on pain-producing peptides, the development of electronic cell counters and the recognition of rare coagulation factor deficiencies. He was a careful, systematic teacher at both undergraduate and postgraduate level; after nearly 60 years I still remember clearly some of his student teaching. In his latter years he played a major role in the integration of the service laboratories and academic departments of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and University College London and the associated hospitals. After his retirement from his academic appointment he was, for some years, consultant haematologist to the London Clinic.

He was the first treasurer of the British Society for Haematology, a post he held for 15 years, and he was president in 1979. He served on the relevant committees of the British Medical Association, the Association of Clinical Pathologists, the International Society of Hematology (secretary-general for more than 10 years) and the Department of Health. He played an important part in establishing quality assurance schemes in haematology. He was a founder fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists and an examiner for membership of the College.

He is remembered by his colleagues as a colourful and somewhat eccentric character; a kindly man untouched by arrogance or guile. He was, in a sense, a very private person, not given to trivial socialising, yet most, possibly all, of his colleagues counted him as a friend. He was eminently approachable and always ready to discuss clinical problems, to give help and advice, and to teach. At scientific meetings he was usually ready with a relevant question, and would often persist with his questioning until he felt that the matter had been adequately explored.

I picture him sitting at the professorial desk with his microscope and (perhaps) his pipe: to one side the desk piled so high with journals that the doors of the cupboards above could not be opened, on the other side a veritable mountain of discarded slides from which he seemed able unerringly to recover any desired hidden treasure! Or perhaps I see him departing down the corridor on his way to the wards, head slightly inclined to one side – instantly recognisable even at some distance. Most of all, I remember him as a careful and caring doctor in whose professional life the patient always came first – and I suspect that this is the only tribute he would have coveted.

He was a ‘Middlesex man’ through and through. In later years he enjoyed attending the annual lunches of the 25 Club, a gathering of those who have served the Middlesex for more than 25 years in whatever capacity, where he seemed to know everyone and to be warmly greeted by all.

Outside of work, his life centred on his family and his home. He met his wife, Margaret, whilst she was nursing at the Middlesex Hospital and they married in 1946. Their home in Hindhead, Surrey, was set in two acres of garden with many ornamental trees, rhododendrons and azaleas. ‘Jimmie’ was a keen gardener and took particular pleasure in his vegetable garden. He was also, for many years, an enthusiastic bee-keeper, obtaining a good yield of heather honey from his hives until, sadly, he developed a serious allergy to bee stings and had to give up this interest. He was also a member of the local rifle-shooting club, and would bring his targets home after the weekly meetings, so that the family could admire his prowess.

He died from a pulmonary embolism resulting from progressive immobility. He is survived by his wife and five children, one of whom, Rhona, is a consultant haematologist.

Arthur Miller

[Brit.med.J.,2006,333,811]

(Volume XII, page web)

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