Lives of the fellows

Reginald Arthur Shooter

b.4 April 1916 d.24 December 2013
CBE (1980) MRCS LRCP(1940) MB BChir Cantab(1940) MD(1945) MRCP(1961) FRCPath(1963) FRCP(1968) FRCS(1977)

Reginald Shooter, or ‘Reggie’ as he was known, was a distinguished medical scientist, teacher and academic, and a leading figure in the story of the last days of the fight against smallpox. Appointed professor of medical microbiology at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Medical College in 1961, he succeeded Lawrence P Garrod [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.203], with whom he had worked as a lecturer and then a senior lecturer since 1946. Meticulous in his investigations, he was a pioneer in the understanding of the spread of infections and of ‘super-bugs’ such as MRSA, and thereby the measures needed to prevent the spread of pathogens. He was awarded emeritus status by the University of London when he retired in 1981. An excellent teacher of medical students, he was also a popular dean of the medical college when appointed in 1972: he served two five-year terms in this onerous post. In 1971 he was a vice president of the Royal College of Pathologists.

Reggie was born on 4 April 1916 in Bradford, the son of the Reverend Arthur Edwin Shooter, a Methodist minister who served as an Army chaplain in both world wars. Ordained in 1910, after training at Handsworth College, his preaching was very much in the evangelical tradition. All Methodist ministers are moved every few years, and during his first ministry in Bath he met his future wife, Mabel Kate Pinniger. They married in 1915 after the Reverend Shooter had moved to Bradford. After serving in the First World War, he moved to Hampstead, then Tottenham and, in 1932, the period of the great Depression, he went to Bristol, where he was able to show the practical side of his Christian beliefs, providing help to the unemployed. In a later move to Ilford he was promoted to superintendent of a Methodist circuit.

Mr Pinniger, Reggie’s maternal grandfather, became quite prosperous by providing low cost clothing in his Exeter shop. His two sons, Wilfred and Charles, both training to be doctors, were killed in the First World War. Reggie was virtually adopted by the Pinnigers, and spent most of his school holidays with them in Exmouth. They also paid his school fees – certainly beyond the means of a Methodist minister. He began his education at Peterborough Lodge, and then, in 1928, moved to Mill Hill junior school. He later entered the senior school on an exhibition. His academic record was good and he was an enthusiastic sportsman, playing cricket for the first XI. Contemporary with him at the school were Richard Dimbleby, the broadcaster, and Kirby Laing, managing director of John Laing plc. Denis Thatcher, husband of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, also went to the school. When down in Exmouth and at the age of 17, Reggie had two driving lessons from a garage owner, and started to drive his grandfather’s Daimler – before driving tests were introduced. He had an unblemished record, although his skills were tested to the limit on icy roads in the blackouts during the Second World War, as he drove to and from blood-letting sessions!

Having decided on a career in medicine, Reggie went to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he met a lifelong friend, Dudley Payne, over a body in the dissecting room: Dudley was studying the anatomy of the arm and Reggie the leg. Letters written to his mother from Cambridge assured her that he remained a teetotaller, as in the true Methodist tradition. In 1937, both students moved to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, for their clinical training and shared a flat near Russell Square. They qualified in June 1940, just as the Luftwaffe started bombing London at the start of the Second World War. Their introduction to house surgeon posts was a ‘baptism of fire’, as there were air raids on 90 consecutive nights, during which they treated numerous civilian casualties. Reggie then obtained a quieter post at the Royal West Sussex Hospital in Chichester, before moving to the new north east blood transfusion depot in Luton, set up with American aid. With the help of one nurse he bled some 7,000 donors in six months.

In 1943 Reggie joined the Navy as a surgeon lieutenant, and after the introductory courses in Portsmouth, he was posted to Freetown, Sierra Leone, a major refuelling and repair station. Assigned to the troopship California, a passenger liner with some armament, he was soon to see action. Sailing in a convoy off the Spanish coast, high altitude bombing by German aircraft crippled the ship and Reggie was knocked unconscious. He was eventually able to scramble down a rope ladder into the last sea-worthy lifeboat. As the senior officer he was officially in charge of the navigation of this crowded vessel, but was only too happy to hand on these duties to a warrant officer. Soon he was tending the many wounded aboard a rescuing destroyer until they landed at Casablanca. While waiting for replacement transport to Freetown, he was very busy treating more casualties and eventually reached a requisitioned liner, Edinburgh Castle, moored off the naval docks. Here he was in charge of the pathology laboratory and of a ‘malarial squad’ of 150 Africans whose aim was to minimise mosquitos within a six mile radius of the docks. One of the main conditions Reggie had to treat was syphilis.

In 1946 he was stationed at the Royal Naval Auxiliary Hospital at Kilmacolm, near Greenock, Scotland, where Reggie was a bacteriological specialist and in charge of 80 beds. One Saturday night the hospital mess invited the female surgeon lieutenants from Greenock over for a dinner dance. Jean Wallace, Reggie’s future wife, was in the party. She one of only 24 commissioned women doctors and had trained in medicine at Bristol. As a fourth year student she had also dealt with numerous civilian casualties from the port of Avonmouth and Bristol aircraft factories, targeted by the Luftwaffe. After a year of house appointments, Jean went to London to help in the management of victims of flying bombs. She had joined the Navy, not as a ‘Wren’, but as a medical officer with rank of surgeon lieutenant. Reggie and Jean became engaged two weeks after they met and married in Bristol on 6 December 1946. Their first child, Adrian, was born in 1948 in London. He became, amongst other things, head of Chiltern Railways.

On demobilisation in late 1946, Reginald Shooter returned to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, to specialise in bacteriology. He became a lecturer at the medical college and an assistant bacteriologist to the hospital, and committed himself to solving infection control in hospitals. He contributed to innovations in the safer design of operating theatres, and introduced central sterilisation supply departments in London hospitals. At St Bartholomew’s Hospital he was fortunate to have the services of Sheila Allen, an experienced and senior ward sister, in the setting up and running of the department.

In 1950 and as a senior lecturer he won a Rockefeller travelling fellowship to continue his studies in the USA at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Reggie, Jean and two-year-old Adrian sailed across the Atlantic on the French liner SS De Grasse, and returned in greater comfort on the flagship of the Cunard Line, The Queen Mary. The Shooter family lived in the ground floor flat of a stone house in a quiet Baltimore street, and Reggie travelled downtown each day by streetcar to Johns Hopkins Hospital. His American colleagues were very hospitable and took the family on tours of the Maryland countryside, and Reggie fishing. Clearly this year was undertaken on the finances for a single man: Jean was not able to practise medicine in the USA, but managed to get a few sessions as a night nurse in order to help the family finances. This enabled them to go on a mini-tour before coming home. They visited the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Detroit, Montreal and Quebec, returning south to New York via the Niagara Falls.

On their return to the UK, Reggie continued to serve Bart’s in his role as a senior lecturer and, in 1961, was promoted to the professorship of medical microbiology at St Bartholomew’s Medical College. He performed research on the value of masks in operating theatres and other aspects of hospital infection. In addition, he assumed other roles, including becoming bacteriologist to the Port of London. On one occasion he had to assess the safety of tins of Argentinian corned beef for human consumption: the Shooter family, including the dog, became a little tired of corned beef! Another continuing commission was work for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) medical officer, who was concerned that the effluent from the toilets flushed onto the railway tracks might be responsible for outbreaks of poliomyelitis. Appropriate swabs were taken from trains. A report Reggie wrote in 1948 stated: ‘the present method of disposal of faeces from railway trains is out-of-date, non-aesthetic, and constitutes a potential danger to those living near railways and to railway passengers.’ Over a seven year period he repeatedly asked for permission to publish his findings in medical journals: this was refused. A report on toilets in trains he wrote in 1957 was as detailed as any of those performed worldwide, but was filed without any action being taken. British Rail eventually took some note of the findings in the 1980s, when storage tanks were fitted on trains.

It was, however, smallpox that brought Reggie public recognition. In 1979 he was asked by the government to chair an official enquiry into the circumstances of the tragic death of the last UK person to succumb to the disease. In 1978 a medical photographer, Janet Parker, working in the anatomy department of Birmingham University Medical School, was exposed to strains of the deadly virus being studied in a laboratory on the floor below. Shooter’s Report of the investigation into the cause of the 1978 Birmingham smallpox occurrence (London, HMSO, 1980) revealed a catalogue of shortcomings in the management of the laboratory, and triggered radical changes in how dangerous pathogens are studied in the UK.

In 1970 Reggie became a member of the board of the Public Health Laboratory Service. As well as becoming dean of the medical college in 1972, he also was appointed governor of Bart’s Hospital and governor of Queen Mary College, University of London. He was a member of the court of City University and of City and East London Area Health Authority. All these posts were held during a busy period of examining for the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London, Bristol, Queen’s University, Belfast, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and overseas in Hong Kong. He was awarded the Pybus medal of the North of England Surgical Society in 1979.

Reggie became a long-standing and enthusiastic supporter of Dr Jenner’s house and garden in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. He served as a trustee and as its honorary archivist from 1989: it gave him great pleasure to donate a large quantity of correspondence and documents to the museum's archives.

In addition to their only son, Adrian, Reggie and Jean had three daughters: Joanna was born in 1954, trained as a nurse, and became a health visitor; Felicity, born in 1958, is a bereavement counsellor in the USA; and Anthea, born in 1961, is a physiotherapist. In retirement Reggie continued to enjoy his hobbies of fishing, gardening and scrabble. He was also a lifelong philatelist.

Reginald Arthur Shooter died on 24 December 2013 at the age of 97. He was predeceased by his wife of 66 years, Jean, who died on 21 November 2012. He leaves his four children and 13 grandchildren. Reggie will be remembered as a fine teacher, with a dry sense of humour, who was prepared to listen and give good advice to students, junior doctors and his colleagues at consultant level, not only on his specialist subject, but in their chosen careers. Above all, he possessed a very sympathetic manner when dealing with patients.

N Alan Green

[Reginald Shooter, CV; Adrian Shooter CBE; Who's Who 2013; The Times 20 February 2014; Dr Jenner's House www.jennermuseum.com/news/professor-r-a-shooter.html – accessed 12 March 2014; Reproduced, with permission, from Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England]

(Volume XII, page web)

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