Lives of the fellows

William Philip Dowie Logan

b.2 November 1914 d.11 December 2012
BSc(1936) MB ChB Glasg(1939) DPH(1947) MD(1948) PhD Lond(1951) MRCP(1961) FRCP(1970)

William Philip Dowie Logan was an epidemiologist and former director of the division of health statistics at the World Health Organization. Born in Glasgow, he was the son of Frederick William Alexander Logan, an accountant, and his wife Elizabeth Jane née Dowie, whose father, William Philip Dowie, was a tea planter. Educated at Queens Park School, he studied medicine at Glasgow University and the Western and Victoria Infirmaries.

Qualifying in 1939, he did house jobs at the Glasgow Victoria Infirmary before enlisting in the RAF medical branch in 1940. Initially he was posted to Saskatchewan, Canada, as a pilot medical officer on a flight training base and then he returned to the UK and served as a squadron leader (medical) at Hixon, Staffordshire until 1945.

On demobilisation he worked as a clinical assistant at the Knightswood Joint Infectious Diseases Hospital in Glasgow from 1946 to 1948, where he gained his diploma in public health and wrote his MD thesis on statistical studies in infectious diseases. He then applied for a job with the General Register Office of England and Wales (GRO) in London (now the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys); working as a GP in Barking, Essex and researching for his PhD at London University while waiting for it to come up. In 1948 he became a medical statistician at the GRO and, three years later, was promoted to chief medical statistician, advisor on statistics to the Ministry of Health, head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) centre for classification of diseases and a member of the WHO expert panel on health statistics. Moving to Switzerland in 1961, he became director of the division of health statistics at the WHO and stayed in this post until he retired in 1974.

During his career he published numerous scientific papers and reports on epidemiology, vital statistics, and health statistics in official reports and medical journals – including anonymous contributions to the British Medical Journal. His analysis of the great smog of London of December 1952, which attributed 4000 deaths to the smog, was said to have speeded up the introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1956. In retirement he worked on the publication Cancer mortality by occupation and social class 1851-1971 (Lyon, IARC, 1982).

A keen traveller, he had houses in Switzerland and Spain, returning to the UK in the 1990s. He enjoyed developing a garden in the Costa Dorada and also in the Swiss Alps. A gifted linguist, he loved to study European languages; other favourite pastimes were cycling and what he referred to as ‘gentle walking’. Sadly he developed bilateral macular degeneration in later life and could not then continue his passions for reading – he loved to browse in the WHO library - and doing crosswords.

In 1941 he married Pearl Mabel née Piper, whose father, Henry, was a transport manager. They had four sons and two daughters. The marriage was dissolved in 1972 and he married Barbara Hedwig Huneke two years later. She survived him when he died, together with his twin sons Alan and Donald, both consultant anaesthetists, Ian, a GP, Graham, a laundry assistant and his daughters, Pamela and Mary, both teachers. His son Malcolm died in infancy.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2013 346 1107; Prabook – both accessed 20 November 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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