Lives of the fellows

Tyndale John Rendle-Short

b.29 June 1919 d.21 January 2010
MB BChir Cantab(1941) MD DCH Lond(1948) MRACP FRCP(1972) FRACP

Tyndale John Rendle-Short, (‘John’) or (‘Prof’ as he was often known), was foundation professor of child health at the University of Queensland and a specialist in childhood autism. A passionate anti-Darwinist, he established the Creation Science Foundation (UK) and was world chairman of the US-based Creation Ministries International. To his professional colleagues, who saw him as an esteemed and highly respected physician, his life was a paradox as it seemed that, as one biographer has commented, ‘he lived in two parallel universes – his university and his hospital-based life on the one hand and the deeply spiritual and religious life in which he lived, on the other’.

Born in Bristol, his father was Arthur Rendle Short, professor of surgery at the University of Bristol and former Hunterian professor at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. His paternal grandfather was E Rendle Short, a director of Fry’s Chocolates. Both his father and grandfather were devout members of the Plymouth Brethren. Rendle-Short (he introduced the hyphen in his surname) was deeply influenced by their fundamentalist Christianity and his father’s rejection of Darwinism. His mother, Henrietta Helen née Case, was the daughter of a farmer and a former nurse. It was perhaps due to her influence that he always championed the crucial role of nursing in the healthcare team.

Educated at Clifton College in Bristol, he studied medicine at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge where he was taught by the cardiac physiologist Edgar, Lord Adrian [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.3], whose influence was to be seen in his later work in paediatric cardiology. Graduating in 1941, he returned to Bristol to complete his training at the Bristol Royal Infirmary at the height of the blitz. Medical students were employed as firewatchers on the hospital roof giving them unforgettable views of the destruction. They worked round the clock after a raid and he recalled that on one occasion ‘I looked up to see that the anaesthetist had fallen asleep from exhaustion in the middle of a case’.

Qualifying in 1943, he enlisted as a lieutenant in the RAMC and was immediately posted to Poona in India, where he spent six months and gained much experience in tropical medicine. Promoted to captain, he then moved to Burma, Thailand and Malaya before demobilisation in 1947.

Having already decided to specialise in paediatrics, he did house jobs at the Belgrave Hospital For Children in London followed by the Hampstead General Hospital from 1947 to 1948. After some months as a locum GP he then moved to the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street for a year before becoming a paediatric registrar to Llandough Hospital in Cardiff in 1950. While there he also worked for four months as a registrar to neonates in the obstetric unit at St David’s Hospital. In 1954 he took up an appointment as lecturer in child health at the University of Sheffield. For the next seven years he formed part of an exceptionally talented group of paediatricians including Ronald Illingworth [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.259], John Lorber [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.307], Kenneth Holt, John Emery and Robert Zachery, and it was here that he first developed his interest in clinical research. Some of the topics they worked on were drug therapy for rheumatic fever, growth and development of normal babies, feeding problems in infancy and metabolic defects in cystic fibrosis.

In 1961 he moved to Brisbane, Australia, as professor of child health at the University of Queensland. A new child health building was being inaugurated and one of his first tasks was to provide suggestions as to the architecture. He took the opportunity to establish three ‘live-in’ rooms for mothers to be with their sick children – a highly unusual procedure at the time. Another innovation was his research into child resistant bottles for dangerous medicines, this is now universally accepted and has saved countless lives. He also began to focus on autism, which, in the early 1960s, was a condition that was very little understood. He concentrated his university teaching on undergraduate courses and, in the 21 years of his popular course on children’s development and disorders, it was estimated that he taught some 2,600 students. Members of the staff of his department were able to teach, uniquely in Australia, from textbooks written by their colleagues. He retired from clinical practice in 1983 and devoted himself to his religious writings.

Early in his career he had investigated what was thought to be a rather strange phenomenon – mothers reported their babies tasting ‘salty’ when they kissed them. The scientific basis for this, Rendle-Short found, was that a metabolic abnormality in cystic fibrosis produces excess salt in the sweat, thus opening the way for a diagnostic test. He published the findings as ‘Fibrocystic disease of the pancreas presenting with salt depletion’ (Arch dis child, 1956, 31, 28-30), a paper which became a classic of its time. Other major topics included the use of corticosteroids in childhood, the use of vasopressin in diabetes and on congenital ocular motor apraxia. Among his many scientific papers and writings, one of the outstanding textbooks (written during his time in Cardiff) was A synopsis of children’s diseases (Bristol, Wright, 1954). It became a standard paediatric work on four continents and was translated into three languages. With revisions and updates, new editions appeared at five yearly intervals for the next 30 years.

He had developed an interest in the history of medicine in the 1950s (again possibly influenced by his father) and published a biography of William Cadogan [Munk’s Roll, Vol.2, p.221], who was a pioneer of child health and acknowledged to be the founder of paediatrics. Written with his sister, Morwenna, it appeared as The life of William Cadogan: the father of child care (Bristol, Wright, 1966).

Throughout his life his religion was all important. A devout fundamentalist and creationist, he believed in the literal truth of the Old Testament. In his early years he described himself as believing in ‘progressive creationism’ but as time went by he began to describe himself as ‘an ardent six-literal-day, young-earth, creationist’. He wrote on the subject extensively and spoke at many national and international forums. He founded the Queensland branch of the American organisation Answers in Genesis which denied evolution and many aspects of geology. A colleague wrote that ‘he never proselytised these startling beliefs in the clinical or academic domain in which he was a dominant figure’. Much of his religious writings were aimed at those who shared his views and, in the 15 years after his retirement he published three textbooks in the field of ‘Christian apologetics’ including Man: ape or image. The Christian’s dilemma. (California, Master Books, 1984).

He had met his wife, Angel née Jones, when he was serving in the RAMC in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She was also a doctor and serving as a captain in the RAMC at the time. They married in Ireland following demobilisation in 1947. He was very supportive of his wife who became a passionate moral crusader and, in the words of their daughter, ‘a self-confessed anti-smut campaigner and book burner’. She led a 20 year campaign against any book with sexual innuendoes, let alone any explicit erotica – she was even known to have sought the banning of the education department’s textbook, English Today Book 3. She was an active member of many organisations such as the Society to Outlaw Pornography and the League for National Welfare and Decency. Angel died in 2006 and when he died, four years later, he was survived by their daughters, Charlotte, Alexandra, Johanna, Francesca and Hephzibah, and son, Hume.

RCP editor

[J med biog 2014 22 63-70]

(Volume XII, page web)

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