Lives of the fellows

Denis Neville Baron

b.3 October 1924 d.8 January 2012
MB BS Lond(1945) MD(1950) MRCP(1962) FRCPath(1963) DSc(1966) FRCP(1971) MA(1980)

Denis Neville Baron was professor of chemical pathology at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London. Born in London, he was the eldest son of Edward, a general practitioner, and his wife Lilian Dolly née Silman whose father, Morris, was a manufacturer. While attending Whittingehame College preparatory school, he had a memorable first taste of medical practice when he was rushed home from school suffering from acute appendicitis and an appendectomy was performed on the kitchen table. After preparatory school, he attended University College School from which he matriculated with the second highest mark in chemistry in England. He was tempted to study chemistry at university, but his father dissuaded him and, instead, he studied medicine at London University and the Middlesex Hospital.

After qualifying in 1945, he did house jobs at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth before joining the RAF in 1946 to do his National Service. He served as a medical officer with the rank of flight lieutenant and worked as an assistant pathologist at the RAF hospital and institute of pathology at Halton and pathologist at the RAF hospital at Norton Hall. While there he claimed to have spent his leisure hours playing golf and learning the rugby songs that his children vividly remembered.

Demobilised in 1949, he returned to the Middlesex and joined Sir Charles Dodd [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.151] at the Courtauld Institute for Biochemistry where, two years later, he was appointed senior lecturer. Dodd was, at the time, recognised to be the chief practitioner in the country not only of biochemistry but also in clinical medicine. Having spent five years at the institute, Baron moved on to the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in 1954 as reader in chemical pathology and honorary consultant chemical pathologist. During this period he was awarded a Rockefeller travelling fellowship in medicine and spent a year from 1960 to 1961 at the University of Chicago, where he built up an international reputation in chemical pathology. On his return to the Royal Free he was appointed professor of chemical pathology in 1963 and spent two years as vice dean from 1977 to 1979. He retired in 1988.

A prolific writer, he published numerous scientific papers on a wide range of subjects such as chemical pathology, endocrinology, enzymology, electrolyte metabolism and medical ethics in pathology. The editor in chief of the journal Clinical science, he also edited, with N Compston and A M Dawson, Recent advances in medicine 14th ed (London, Churchill, 1964) and two later editions. He published A short textbook of chemical pathology (London, Hodder, 1982), which was reissued several times, and A short textbook of clinical biochemistry (Philadelhia, Lippincott, 1973). His books were very popular with students of chemical pathology and he took medical education very seriously, extending his interest to less privileged countries and helping to set up medical schools in West Africa, Pakistan and Malaysia. Another work he edited, Units, symbols and abbreviations: a guide for biological and medical editors and authors (London, Royal Society of Medicine, 1971) became an essential reference work and he was meticulous about the accuracy of the many revised editons that appeared.

A founder member and vice president of the Royal College of Pathologists, he was also chair of the Association of Professors of Clinical Biochemistry. He was a member of the Department of Health and Social Security’s standing medical advisory committee and of other government bodies such as the Medicines Commission. In retirement he took the MA course in medical ethics run by King’s College and eventually helped to teach the course. He also acted as an expert witness and was a member of various local health authorities and a mental health appeals manager for Barnet Health Authority.

A man of many enthusiasms, he nevertheless found time to spend with his family, of whom he was immensely proud. He loved gardening, attending concerts and opera (especially Wagner) and also bridge, travelling and sightseeing. Other eclectic passions were bookbinding, playing the piano, reading detective novels, writting letters to the Times, yoga and slapstick comedy.

In 1951 he married Yvonne Elsa née Stern, whose father, Hugo, was a manufacturer. It was a speedy romance – he proposed after two weeks’ acquaintance - but the marriage lasted 60 years. When he died peacefully in bed Yvonne survived him, along with their children, Leonora, Jessica, Olivia and Justin, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandsons.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2013 346 2289 - accessed 5 October 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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