Lives of the fellows

Laurence Henry

b.25 November 1929 d.26 May 2010
MB ChB Birm(1952) MRCS LRCP(1952) MRCP(1957) MD(1964) MRCPath(1966) FRCPath(1978) FRCP(1979)

Laurence Henry was professor of pathology at the University of Sheffield. He was born in Sutton Coldfield and attended Bishop Vessey’s Grammar School, where his father, Joseph Paul Henry, taught mathematics. In 1947, Laurence Henry entered the medical school at the University of Birmingham with a Fletcher entrance scholarship. He graduated in 1952 with distinctions in pathology, bacteriology and in medicine, as well as the junior surgical prize.

After house appointments in Birmingham, in 1953 he began his military service. As a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he was seconded to the Gold Coast Regiment. In the years to come, he delighted many colleagues with reminiscences of his experiences in West Africa.

Returning to civilian life, Laurence Henry began his career in histopathology with training in Birmingham and London, including a period as a lecturer at St George’s Hospital Medical School in the department of Sir Theo Crawford [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.103], soon to become the first president of the Royal College of Pathologists.

In July 1959, Laurence Henry went to Boston, USA, where he spent three years as an associate in pathology at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and as an instructor in pathology at Harvard Medical School. Pursuing his research interest in transplantation, in Boston he collaborated with John Putnam Merrill, who led the team that had performed the first successful renal transplant. In 1964, the University of Birmingham awarded Henry an MD for a thesis on the immunopathology of skin grafting.

Soon after returning to the UK, he was appointed as a senior registrar in pathology at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. His teaching style was characterised by clarity, encouragement and nurturing self-confidence, in marked contrast to the humiliating experiences many students often endured elsewhere on the campus.

In June 1966, Laurence Henry moved to Sheffield, where he stayed for the remainder of his career. He had been appointed as a senior lecturer in pathology and as an honorary consultant histopathologist in Bill Crane’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.120] department. His academic advancement was rapid: within six years he had been promoted to reader in pathology, and in 1977 he was granted the personal title of professor of pathology. For several years, Laurence Henry served as head of department, one of many positions of responsibility he held with distinction in the University of Sheffield and in the city’s teaching hospitals. His calm and thoughtful manner was often called upon to help resolve contentious issues.

Laurence Henry’s time in Sheffield coincided with a major reconfiguration of the city’s hospital services, notably the closure of the Royal Hospital (in which he had his main clinical duties) and the Royal Infirmary, and their replacement by the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Among many roles in the local NHS, in the late 1980s he served as vice-chairman of Sheffield Health Authority.

Among the most fruitful research collaborations in Sheffield was his work with Jack Beverley on experimental toxoplasmosis. This yielded numerous publications and substantially advanced our understanding of cellular and tissue reactions to Toxoplasma gondii. Many others were involved in this research, notably Chris Kittas, later to become rector of Athens University, who collaborated with Laurence Henry in studies of post-capillary venules in lymph nodes.

A deep Christian faith was evident to all who knew and worked with Laurence Henry. His quiet humming of favourite hymns was a signal to colleagues and others that all was well. Reared as a Methodist, he had converted to the Church of England under the ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel. He was a member of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

In 1970, Laurence Henry married Ann Patricia Wood, a dental surgeon, who he had first met in Birmingham 15 years earlier. Their relationship was complementary in many respects: Pat was one of the top women rock climbers of her day, but Laurence had no head for heights. Laurence and Pat had two children — John, born in 1972, and Alison, born in 1973 — and a well-tended garden at their house in Sheffield’s Mayfield Valley.

A few years after retirement, Laurence and Pat settled in Cumbria. For a time they were able to enjoy the south Lakes area and the splendid gardens of Levens Hall and Sizergh Castle, as well as a more modest plot at their house in Beetham. But their shared happiness was curtailed when Pat succumbed to cancer in 2007 at a time when Laurence was contending with worsening renal failure, which eventually led to his death.

A generation of histopathologists, among many others, will fondly remember Laurence Henry for his skilful training, career guidance and wise counsel.

Sir James Underwood

(Volume XII, page web)

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