Lives of the fellows

Geoffrey Michael Aber

b.19 February 1928 d.15 March 2014
MB ChB Leeds(1952) MRCP(1956) MD(1963) PhD Birm(1964) FRCP(1973)

Geoffrey Aber was the first head and subsequently dean of postgraduate medicine at Keele University, a department he was instrumental in creating, and also a nephrologist responsible for setting up one of the first dialysis units in the UK in the 1960s. He was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, the son of David Aber, a fabric wholesaler, and Hilda Aber née Madeloff. He had a distinguished academic record, first at Leeds Grammar School and then at Leeds University, where he completed his undergraduate medical training in 1952. This was also where he developed his lifelong passion for sport, in particular rugby, tennis, cricket and athletics.

After a post as a house physician at Leeds General Infirmary, Geoff undertook his National Service as a ‘medical specialist’ in the Royal Army Medical Corps, despite having only just qualified. He had the opportunity to work in a large military hospital in Singapore and to travel widely in the Far East. His exposure to tropical medicine undoubtedly stimulated his interest in the basic medical sciences and helped him decide to pursue an academic career on his return to the UK.

His research training was predominantly at the University of Birmingham with John Squire [Munk’s Roll Vol.VI, p.412] in the department of experimental pathology, and subsequently with Sir W Melville Arnott [Munk’s Roll Vol.XI, p.29], but also included a year as a research fellow in physiology at McGill University, Montreal, with Arnold Burgen. He obtained both an MD with distinction from Leeds (in 1963) and a PhD from Birmingham (in 1964), which led to him being selected by the Wellcome Trust as one of their early senior research fellows, to study the effects of chronic respiratory failure upon cardiac and renal conditions. This led to publications in Clinical Science and Nature.

In 1965 he was appointed as a consultant nephrologist at the North Staffordshire Hospital Centre with the remit of setting up one of the first departments of nephrology in the country. In 1968, Malcolm Milne [Munk’s Roll Vol.IX, p.367], then president of the Renal Association, opened the dialysis unit Geoff had established. His other main task was to advise on the setting up of an institute of medical research in North Staffordshire. Eventually, this led to the establishment in 1978 of a school of postgraduate medicine and biological sciences at Keele University, creating the foundations of the academic partnership between the university and hospital, which now flourish following the establishment of an undergraduate medical school and the institute for science and technology in medicine.

Although these steps in laying the foundations for academic and renal medicine in North Staffordshire should be seen as his major achievement, Geoff remained active in research throughout his career and was appointed to a personal chair in 1982, subsequently becoming dean of the school of postgraduate medicine, a post he held from 1989 to 1991. His research interests were diverse and included both animal studies of the effects of pregnancy and oestrogen on the rat kidney, as well as a number of important contributions to clinical research. These included early descriptions of the use of cyclophosphamide in the treatment of relapsing nephrotic syndrome, the loin pain haematuria syndrome and retroperitoneal fibrosis, a subject on which, with his long-time urology colleague, Peter Higgins, he became an international authority.

Although kind, Geoff expected very high standards of his colleagues and trainees when attending oral presentations or reviewing work to be submitted for publication. It always paid to have your arguments prepared before putting them forward, as you could be sure they would come under forensic examination. One of his favourite pieces of advice was to learn to read upside down, so you could see what your interrogator on the other side of the desk had prepared! His love of sport and cars – who can forget the loving attention with which the Porsche was parked outside his office – continued after his retirement to Harrogate, where he was able to pursue the pleasures of golf (he always maintained this was his greatest challenge) and his new interest of photography, and to make new friends.

Geoff was a dedicated family man and was greatly supported throughout his career by his wife Eleanor (‘Ellie’) née Harcourt, with whom he had a daughter, Allie, and a son, Mark.

Simon J Davies

[BMJ 2014 348 4054; The Renal Association: Geoffrey Aber – accessed 19 October 2014]

(Volume XII, page web)

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