Lives of the fellows

John Farrar Soothill

b.20 August 1925 d.23 September 2004
MB BChir Cantab(1949) MRCP(1954) MRCPath(1965) FRCP(1971) FRCPath(1974)

John Farrar Soothill, known as ‘Sooty’, was the first Hugh Greenwood professor of immunology at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London. He was born in Blackheath, London, but was brought up in Norfolk, where his father, Victor Farrar Soothill, was chief medical officer in Norwich. His mother was Kathleen Helena née Bradfield. His grandfather, William Edward Soothill, was a former missionary in China who later became the first Oxford professor of sinology. Soothill was educated at Leys School, Cambridge, and then Christ’s College, Cambridge University. He went on to Guy’s Medical School for his clinical studies.

He held house surgeon and house physician appointments at Guy’s. Between 1950 and 1952 he carried out his National Service in the RAMC, in Germany. He was then a senior house officer and medical registrar at Lewisham General Hospital. He subsequently became a junior medical registrar at Guy’s. He spent 1955 to 1956 on a Fulbright Scholarship as a research fellow in the department of medicine, University of Illinois, Chicago.

In 1956 he went to Birmingham, to the department of experimental pathology under John Squires. He worked on renal pathology and biopsy, and introduced the use of cyclophosphamide in treating nephrotic syndrome during childhood.

In 1965 he was appointed as head of the department of immunology at the Institute of Child Health, London, becoming the first Hugh Greenwood professor of immunology in 1968. His former students included three vice-chancellors and more than 30 professors. He retired in 1985.

One of his main achievements was the classification of the different forms of severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID), which he had named. He also developed a theory that the onset of allergy is due to exposure to an allergic substance in the first six months of life, a vulnerable period when the immune system is maturing. He pioneered the use of exclusion diets in the treatment of allergy.

He published almost 200 papers over more than 50 years and, with A R Hayward and C B S Wood, co-authored Paediatric immunology (Oxford, Blackwell Scientifc, 1983).

Outside medicine, he enjoyed music, particularly singing and piano, gardening, sailing and carpentry. In 1951 he married Brenda née Thornton, a professional violinist. They had a daughter (Mary) and three sons (James, Peter and Charles).

RCP editor

[, 2004 329 1347; The Independent 18 October 2004; The Guardian 20 October 2004]

(Volume XII, page web)

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