Lives of the fellows

Frederick Valentine Flynn

b.6 October 1924 d.4 July 2011
MB BS Lond(1946) MD(1951) MRCPath(1963) MRCP(1967) FRCPath(1971) FRCP(1973)

Frederick Valentine (‘Freddie’) Flynn was professor of chemical pathology at University College Hospital Medical School, London. Best known for his work on the development of laboratory information systems, he also made major contributions to our understanding of proteinurea and was an outstanding teacher of clinical biochemistry. Born in Enfield, Middlesex, he was the son of Frederick Walter Flynn, a company representative and his wife, Jane Laing née Valentine, whose father George Valentine was a gentleman’s outfitter. The eldest of their two sons, he very much appreciated the struggle that his parents went through during the Great Depression and this lay behind his strong work ethic. After attending St Andrew’s School in Oakleigh Park and the Northern Polytechnic, he studied medicine at London University and University College Hospital (UCH).

Graduating in 1946, he did house jobs at UCH for a year before becoming research assistant, then registrar, in their department of clinical pathology. In 1954 he was awarded a British Postgraduate Federation travelling fellowship and spent a year studying practice, education and research in chemical pathology in Canada and the US, including a period as an associate in clinical pathology at the Pepper Laboratory of Clinical Medicine at Pennsylvania University.

He returned to the department at UCH and, in 1960, was appointed consultant chemical pathologist. Ten years later, in 1970, he became professor of chemical pathology at UCH medical school and honorary chemical pathologist to UCH. He formally retired in 1989 when he became professor emeritus, continuing to research in his field for at least another 10 years.

In 1955, on his return from the US, his work was much influenced by the professor of medicine at University College London (UCL), Max Rosenheim [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.394]. With Elizabeth Butler he published ‘The proteinuria of renal tubular disorders (Lancet, 1958, 2, 978-80) – it was one of the first descriptions of ‘tubular’ (low molecular weight) proteinuria. He followed this with a series of papers on the topic that further defined it.

His interest then turned to the application of computing to pathology. In the early 1960s computers were increasingly becoming capable of batch processing data and Flynn, one of the first to recognise what this could mean for the medical profession, gave an exhibition at the Royal Society of how a multichannel hospital chemistry analyser could be linked to a computer that produced results by offline data handling. He also saw how valuable the display of a time series of results from patients – ‘cumulative reporting’ could be. At the time data processing was slow, there were countless breakdowns, and the software was hard to implement, but he realised that this would all improve in time. With numerous colleagues he developed a system called SOCRATES which was installed in the new pathology laboratory of the combined UCH and Middlesex hospitals at the end of the 1980s. This was not universally popular as some clinicians felt that the large amounts of date far exceeded their ability to manage them. He was eager to make sure that the presentation of the data happened in such a way that the advantages of the method were clear to all.

At the Royal College of Pathologists, as a member from almost the first year of its existence, he was very much involved in its activities. He was vice-president from 1975 to 1978, treasurer from 1978 to 1983, and a member of council from 1973 to 1983 and from 1984 to 1987. He also chaired the college examinations panel and worked hard to ensure that it was one of the first medical royal colleges to promote continuing medical education (CME). In 1995 he was awarded the college medal and in 2000 the college inaugurated the ‘Flynn lectures’ to be delivered at the annual conference of the Association for Clinical Biochemistry.

A member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s section of pathology council, he was also on the council of the Association of Clinical Pathologists. He was on many committees and working parties for the Department of Health, the regional health authority, the British Medical Association and the Medical Research Council and several other bodies. He advised the Royal Navy as a civilian consultant from 1978 to 1992 and was on the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Pathology from 1995 to 1996.

Outside medicine, he enjoyed photography, gardening and carpentry.

In 1955 he married Catherine Ann Warrick whose father was Robert Walter Warrick, a GP. She was also medically qualified and a graduate of the Royal Free Hospital Medical School. Catherine died in 1997 and, when he died of heart failure in Addenbrooke’s Hospital after stoically bearing many years of ill health, he was survived by their son David, a computer scientist; daughter, Frances Attwood, a music therapist; three grandsons; and one great grand-daughter.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2012 344 1223; Prabook – both accessed 2 September 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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