Lives of the fellows

Peter Edward Darrell Sheldon Wilkinson

b.7 August 1919 d.15 August 2009
MRCS LRCP(1942) MB BS London(1946) MD(1947) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1964)

Darrell Sheldon Wilkinson, a consultant at Aylesbury and High Wycombe, was a leading figure in British dermatology. He was born in Gillingham, Kent, the son of Edgar Sheldon Wilkinson, a surgeon commander in the Royal Navy and later a GP in London, and Muriel Kathleen née Edgar (known as ‘Mitzi’), who later became Muriel Howarth. Darrell’s mother was an early enthusiast for all things nuclear, becoming director of Institute of Atomic Information for the Layman. Darrell was educated at Epsom College, where he initially studied classics, and at St Thomas’ Hospital, qualifying with the conjoint in 1942.

After three years in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and Special Operations Executive, serving mainly in Greece and the Adriatic, he returned to St Thomas’ Hospital to undertake specialty training in dermatology under Geoffrey Dowling [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.163] and Hugh Wallace [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.520]. Whilst a registrar in dermatology at St Thomas’ he, along with Arthur Rook [Munk’s Roll Vol.IX, p.450] and Eric Waddington [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.545], established a journal club at the George, later to become the Dowling Club, which is now one of the principal associations involved in the training of young British dermatologists.

In 1947 he was appointed as a consultant dermatologist at Hitchin Hospital and at Epsom, Farnham and Guildford hospitals. He then became a consultant dermatologist at St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey and to the Aylesbury and High Wycombe hospitals, where he worked until his retirement from the NHS in 1981.

His enthusiasm for all aspects of clinical dermatology, including those often neglected aspects of dermatology such as community dermatology and leg ulcers, combined with an early appreciation of specialist nursing and of women in medicine, led to the creation of one of the first district general hospital centres of excellence. A large clinical base, a diagnostic index, an enquiring mind and an eye for the unusual led to early descriptions of various clinical entities such as subcorneal pustular dermatosis (which became known as ‘Sneddon-Wilkinson disease’), perioral dermatitis, glucagonoma syndrome, dequalinium balanitis, forefoot eczema and the first report of photocontact dermatitis (due to tetrachlorosalicylanide), as well as other curiosities such as ‘black heel’ and ‘Chiltern chaps’. In 1958 he wrote Nursing and management of skin diseases (London, Faber and Faber), which ran to four editions.

In 1968, he joined with Arthur Rook and John Ebling in writing and editing their magnum opus, the first comprehensive English-speaking Textbook of dermatology (Blackwell Scientific), to which he contributed 14 of the chapters. Together they edited three further editions and this book remains the pre-eminent international reference textbook for dermatology.

Darrell was an inspiring teacher who welcomed and taught many doctors visiting from Australia and other parts of the world, as well as those visiting his department from the St John’s Hospital dermatology diploma course, along with many young British dermatologists who passed through his department for training.

Always active, even driven, he published extensively and was frequently invited to lecture abroad. He was also invited to join the International Contact Dermatitis Research Group. This was the pioneering group that established the scientific basis for the sub-specialty of contact dermatitis.

His international standing was now such that he was invited to become a member of the committee of the International League of Dermatological Societies and was instrumental in providing the inspiration for this organisation to see its role as not only organising quadrennial international meetings, but also to provide training for dermatologists in developing countries. In 1987, following the hard work of Terence Ryan and others, the first dermatology training centre in Africa opened in Moshi, Tanzania. In acknowledgement of this and his overall contribution to dermatology, Darrell Wilkinson was awarded the International League of Dermatological Societies’ inaugural bronze medal, a quite extraordinary achievement for a single-handed dermatologist from a district general hospital.

During his career, he was president of the St John’s Dermatology Society from 1966 to 1967, president of the section of dermatology of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1981, president of the British Association of Dermatologists in 1983 and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1996. He was an honorary member of 16 other international dermatological associations. In 1986, he received the British Association of Dermatologists’ highest award, the Sir Archibald Gray medal.

Throughout his life he retained an abiding interest in the classics, music, poetry, history and philosophy. He was perhaps one of the last of the true ‘Renaissance men’, as happy to discuss Virgil or the origins of the Celts as he was clinical dermatology.

He and his wife Joan née Saunders (‘Jo’), whom he married in 1945, were wonderful hosts and he will be remembered as much for his erudition, eccentric parties and generosity of spirit as for his contributions to dermatology. He was survived by his wife and three children, John, David and Julia. His son John succeeded him as a consultant dermatologist to High Wycombe, Amersham and Aylesbury.

John D Wilkinson

[British Journal of Dermatology 2010 162 231-233; BAD Newsletter Vol. 12, No.4, Winter 2009 www.bad.org.uk//site/1433/default.aspx – accessed 22 August 2011]

(Volume XII, page web)

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