Lives of the fellows

Joseph Geoffrey Kerfoot Dean

b.5 December 1918 d.7 September 2009
CBE(1968) MB ChB Liverpool(1942) MRCP(1947) MD(1952) FRCP(1964) MFCM(1971) FFCM(1972) MRCPI(1973) FRCPI(1975) FFCMI(1976) Hon DSc University College Dublin(2008)

Geoffrey Dean was an internationally recognised epidemiologist with a lifetime interest in multiple sclerosis (MS). He was the first director of the Irish Medico-Social Research Board, now incorporated into the Health Research Board. This followed a 20-year period in South Africa. This was terminated in the sixties, when he openly criticised the South African government’s treatment of prisoners, which resulted in his arrest.

He was born in Wrexham, Wales, in 1918, the son of Henry Fleetwood Lloyd Dean, a coachbuilder, and Agnes Irene Lloyd. He was educated at Ampleforth and Liverpool University, qualifying in 1943. He was then a medical officer in Bomber Command.

After the war, he settled in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where he became a consultant physician. There his interest in MS was awakened through his observation of the very different incidence of the condition among the various migrating racial groups he encountered. This started his lifelong interest in differential rates of MS associated with various populations. His last publication (at 89) was on this same topic (Neurology 2008 Jan 8;70[2]:101-5). While resident in South Africa he investigated porphyria among siblings, and went on to challenge the accepted belief that porphyria was the cause of George III’s insanity. In a highly productive research career he wrote over 200 articles and wrote several books, the last of which was an autobiography, The turnstone: a doctor’s story, published in 2002 (Liverpool, Liverpool University Press).

In the sixties, he criticised the then South African government over the maltreatment of prisoners. He was arrested and only avoided imprisonment through the intervention of Sir Richard Doll [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] and Lord Platt [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.470], then president of the Royal College of Physicians. This led to his return to the British Isles and his appointment as the first director of the Irish Medico-Social Research Board in 1968. There he continued his research into migrating populations and the incidence of MS.

Among the distinctions he received was a CBE, a doctorate of science from University College Dublin and an honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. Despite failing health in later years, his contribution to the geographical associations of MS continued unabated.

He married his first wife, Norah Mary Devlin, known as ‘Nonie’, in 1944. They had three children – John, Jennifer and Michael. Another daughter, Patricia, tragically drowned at the age of four. Following his divorce, he married for a second time, to Maria von Braunbruck. They had a son, Gordon Richard, and a daughter, Elizabeth. His wife Maria and his five children survived him.

Paul Darragh

[Brit.med.J.,2009 339 5100; Mult Scler May 20,2010 Vol.16 No.5 518-519]

(Volume XII, page web)

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