Lives of the fellows

John Russell Anderson

b.31 May 1918 d.30 October 2011
CBE(1980) BSc St Andrews(1939) MB ChB(1942) MD(1955) MRCP(1961) MRCP Glas(1962) MRCPath(1964) FRCP Glas(1965) FRCPath(1966) FRSE(1968) FRCP(1979)

John Russell Anderson, always known to colleagues as ‘JRA’, was professor of pathology at the University of Glasgow. He made notable contributions to the study of immunological diseases and was a former president of the Royal College of Pathologists. Born in Middlesbrough, he was the son of William Greig Anderson, a GP who trained in Glasgow. Educated at Worksop College, Nottinghamshire, he studied medicine at St Andrews University and Dundee Royal Infirmary (DRI).

Qualifying in 1942, he did house jobs at the DRI, followed by a year in laboratory medicine, six months of which were spent with Daniel Fowler Cappell [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.88] studying pathology. He then enlisted in the RAMC to do his National Service and served for three years as a pathologist with the rank of captain in Ghana, Libya (where he first learnt to sail) and Egypt.

On demobilisation in 1947, he was recruited by Cappell to become a lecturer in pathology at Glasgow University. The department had been built up by its first two professors to be pre-eminent in research and teaching in pathology and especially in aspects of autoimmune haemolytic anaemia. Cappell continued this work and, when Anderson arrived, he also conducted investigations in this field, notably into haemolytic mechanisms in an experimental rabbit model. Awarded a Rockefeller travelling scholarship in 1952, he spent a year at Rochester University in New York, USA from 1953 to 1954, where he worked with George Hoyt Whipple, the eponymous discoverer of Whipple’s disease and Nobel prize winner in 1934.

On his return from the USA in 1954, he became senior lecturer in pathology at Glasgow. The following year he was awarded the St Andrew’s University gold medal for his MD thesis Immune antibodies in haemolytic anaemia: an experimental study. In collaboration with Robert Goudie, Watson Buchanan and Dr Kathleen Gray he continued this investigation and they became the first to demonstrate circulating autoantibodies against the adrenal gland in Addison’s disease. They also located a range of autoantibodies against thyroid constituents in thyroid diseases and in other disorders of connective tissue. Together with similar research that was happening simultaneously at the Middlesex Hospital, this work was accepted to be at the forefront of the global investigation of immunological disease.

In 1965 he was appointed to the George Holt chair in pathology at Liverpool University and returned to Glasgow two years later as professor of pathology. During his time there he continued to research and to promote the policy inspired by his mentor Daniel Cappell of encouraging future generations of pathologists to sub-specialise in diagnostic pathology, a trend which was to become increasingly widespread internationally.

Another collaboration with Cappell had been working on the revision of Sir Robert Muir’s Textbook of pathology (London, Arnold, 1924) which, since it first appeared, had a become an internationally recognised text for both undergraduates and postgraduates. Anderson finally worked on four editions and his son commented that the revision work, while he was doing it, continued with such intensity that there were three persons in his parents’ marriage, his father, his mother and ‘Muir’. He also published numerous scientific papers on subjects such as immunopathology and autoimmunity, and was a major contributor to Autoimmunity: clinical and experimental (Springfield, Illinois, Thomas, 1967).

A founder member of the British Society for Immunology, he was also elected to the fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1968. He was elected to the Council of the Royal College of Pathologists in 1971, eventually becoming vice-president and president from 1978 to 1981. Although based in Glasgow, he took the trouble to spend more time in the College than any of his five predecessors and he also visited all the NHS regions in the UK to discuss the problems of incorporating different laboratory disciplines under the College’s aegis. He also served on numerous Department of Health committees and on the education committee of the General Medical Council, through which he promoted the formalisation of training programmes. In 1980 he was appointed CBE in recognition of his work and, the following year, he was given an honorary doctorate of laws by the University of Dundee.

On his retirement in 1984, he turned to entirely non-medical pursuits. Keen to preserve his village’s rural character, he served on the Baldernock Community Council. An early exponent of ‘green’ issues, he and his wife grew thousands of saplings from beechnuts and acorns they had collected and planted them widely in the area. He practiced what he termed ‘coarse gardening’ and, together with his wife’s more refined skills, their abundant produce was sold in a local charity shop. A keen yachtsman from his National Service days, he sailed extensively off the west of Scotland with a crew of retired friends, including a visit to the remote archipelago of St Kilda. He also enjoyed skiing, racket sports, golf and hill walking – apparently he was unaffected by the cold and would cool off after a hike by immersing himself fully clothed in a burn.

In 1956 he married Audrey Margaret Shaw née Wilson, the daughter of Alan Mackenzie Shaw Wilson, an accountant. They met when she was a student in Glasgow and attended his pathology lectures. Of their four children, their daughter Susan died at the age of 25 in a climbing accident at Glencoe. When he died Audrey survived him, together with their daughter, Lois, sons Kenneth and Russell, seven grandchildren and one great granddaughter.

RCP editor

[The Times 8 December 2011; Royal Society of Edinburgh - accessed 6 October 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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