Lives of the fellows

Edward Peter Sharpey-Schafer

b.22 September 1908 d.23 October 1963
BA Cantab(1930) MB BCh Cantab(1932) MRCS LRCP(1933) MRCP(1935) FRCP(1949)

Edward Peter Sharpey-Schafer was the son of a naval officer, Commander John Sharpey-Schafer, and the grandson of the illustrious physiologist, Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer, F.R.S. His mother was Ruth Bateman Champain. As his father was killed at the Battle of Jutland (1916) his education was supervised by his formidable grandfather, who must have left a deep impression. He became a scholar at Winchester, and entered King’s College, Cambridge, as an exhibitioner and Kitchener scholar. His medical training was at University College Hospital, London, where he gained the Fellowes gold medal. After qualifying he became house surgeon to Wilfred Trotter and house physician to Sir Thomas Lewis. The latter greatly influenced his attitude by his programme of accounting for the features of disease by physiological analysis, and perhaps also by his disdain of his more orthodox colleagues. After a spell as R.M.O. at the National Heart Hospital he joined the British Postgraduate Medical School under Professor Francis Fraser in 1936. His first interest was endocrinology, but with the outbreak of war in 1939 he collaborated with McMichael and others in the study of the effects of haemorrhage, and thereafter worked mainly on the circulation. In 1948 he was appointed to the chair of medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, where he remained until his death. He was Oliver-Sharpey lecturer for 1961. He published a great many papers without repeating himself. His most important work in endocrinology was on the effect of thyroid stimulating hormone, and on the nature of Turner’s syndrome (Quart. J. Med.,1939, 8, 195-208). With McMichael he pioneered the use in this country of cardiac catheterisation and with it made frequent measurements of cardiac output during acute experiments. He also worked extensively on the reflex control of the circulation and on the mechanisms of circulatory failure.

As a scientist Sharpey-Shafer was something of an artist, seeking the elegant and decisive experiment, carrying it out with his own hands, and relying on the immaculate experimental record to make statistical or other sophisticated analysis unnecessary. He was, however, catholic in his appreciation of the work of juniors, and effective, if laconic, in their encouragement, for in all his professional activity he gave priority to the prosecution and encouragement of research. He was a shrewd tactician who managed to increase the size and facilities of his department without provoking the resentment of his colleagues. He had little interest in hospital or university administration, except in so far as they might affect opportunities for research or the careers of research workers. His influence on his hospital and medical school was, however, profound and beneficial. He was perhaps lucky in the timing of his appointment as he was able to participate in the reconstruction and expansion following the Second World War. Some ten years after his coming to St. Thomas’s three newly created chairs of medicine were filled in rapid succession from his department.

Sharpey-Schafer had many interests outside his work. At school and college he had been a good rifle-shot and golfer, and he continued to enjoy the latter pursuit. He was a keen naturalist with a particular interest in the ecology of native orchids. He took up photography quite late in life and rapidly became remarkably proficient in all its aspects. In Who's Who he described his recreations as ‘childish pursuits’; this perhaps reflected his delight in mechanical toys, puzzles and such-like, and he was indeed an excellent companion and entertainer of children. He affected disdain for the arts and for the normal interests of intellectuals, but would nevertheless often prove disconcertingly well informed on such topics. He was essentially a kindly, rather shy man, with a genuine hatred of pomposity and pretence, who at times exploited a nihilistic image to avoid uncomfortable personal involvements. As is apt to happen to habitual rebels who become accepted and successful, there was sometimes a touch of self-parody in his later manner. To a casual acquaintance he often seemed odd and inaccessible; but his colleagues, and in particular his subordinates, never found him unapproachable, and the latter especially always regarded him with affection as well as respect.

Sharpey-Schafer married first Joy Adlard, by whom there were two sons and a daughter, and secondly, Sheila Howarth, by whom there were two daughters.

Richard R Trail

[Brit. Heart J., 1964, 26, 430-32 (p), bibl.; Brit.med.J., 1963, 2, 1135-6 (p), 1413; Lancet, 1963, 2, 951-3 (p); Nature (Lond.), 1963, 200, 832-3.]

(Volume V, page 372)

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