Lives of the fellows

Gordon Howard Valentine

b.11 March 1919 D.4 February 2016
MB ChB Bristol(1942) MRCS LRCP(1942) MRCP(1947) DCH(1950) LMCC(1954) FRCPC(1957) FRCP(1977) FCCMG(1979) BFA Victoria(1999)

Howard Valentine was professor of paediatrics at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. He was born in Long Ashton, north Somerset, the second son of a general practitioner of Girvan, Scotland, Gordon Alexander Valentine, and Janie Valentine née Carpenter, of Glasgow. His father had plans for him to work in business, however he decided on medicine and studied at Bristol University on a wartime-abbreviated course. This was at the height of the Blitz and he often recounted stories of being on the roof of the hospital during the Bristol bombings. It was during this time that he first met Beryl Corner [Munk’s Roll, Vol. XII, web] as a teacher and where his interest in paediatrics was sparked. Howard had an enormous respect for Beryl Corner, whose work in haemolytic disease of the newborn helped foster his later work.

Newly-graduated, he became a medical officer to the 66th Medium Regiment Royal Artillery in Italy. In family legends he told of studying for his specialist exams in a makeshift office in the back of his jeep, reading by car battery light during the muddy winter in Castel del Rio. He recounted being one of the first Allied force members to cross Florence and the Ponte Vecchio with a woman in protracted labour. Perhaps most romantic was the story of being one of the first of the Allies into newly-liberated Yugoslavia, where citizens covered his jeep with lilies of the valley in a gesture of gratitude.

He was posted to 31st General Hospital, Klagenfurt, Austria in 1945 as a medical specialist in internal medicine. In this post-war setting he fell in love with Pamela Hobkinson, a physiotherapist. These were, he said, the best days of his life: working, studying, skiing in the Austrian Alps, and riding the elite rescued horses of Europe. In 1947 he passed his MRCP. Following his discharge, he married Pam in 1948 and became a senior registrar in paediatrics in Leicester. In 1950 he was appointed as a consultant paediatrician in north Cambridgeshire, working in hospitals in Peterborough, Stamford, Wisbech, March and Doddington. In 1952 their eldest daughter, Nicola, was born in Leicester.

He and Pam saw the potential for a better life in Canada and emigrated in 1953, but arrived in Winnipeg in a mosquito-ridden summer and during one of Canada’s last polio epidemics. The family returned to England. Howard and family emigrated again to Canada, where he secured a new position in paediatrics in St Thomas, Ontario, after passing his licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC) exams in 1954. Their second daughter, Robin, was born in 1955 in St Thomas.

In the late 1950s, he published several research papers on the treatment of rhesus and ABO-incompatibility haemolytic disease of the newborn. Between 1958 and 1959 he lectured in paediatric haematology and neurology in London, Ontario, and in 1959 was appointed as an assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario. With his colleague John Rathbun, he spent his first years at War Memorial Children’s Hospital, doing productive research while teaching. Exchange transfusion of the newborn was his primary focus, but a new interest in cystic fibrosis led to the Breath of Life award from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in 1969.

During the mid-1960s his special interest in medical genetics fully emerged. With his colleagues Murray Barr, David Carr and Carol Buck, Howard began clinical research in the epidemiology of Down syndrome. Howard's interest in clinical cytogenetics and the lack of knowledge of clinicians in this new field, led him to write a primer for clinicians The chromosome disorders – an introduction for clinicians (London, William Heinemann Medical Books). The first edition in 1966 and was successful and was translated into several languages. Three subsequent editions, the final in 1986, were published with extensive revisions as knowledge in genetics exploded. He showed a special interest in sex chromosome aneuploidies, which led to valuable contacts with other geneticists worldwide.

In London, Ontario, hospital resources shifted constantly. New paediatric services were opened and then closed due to fiscal restraint. Howard spent time briefly as head of the paediatric department following the untimely death of John Rathbun, however administration was neither his interest nor his strength. He resigned from the position and returned to his real area of interest in genetics. In 1974, with his colleagues Pozsonyi, Sergovich, Allen, Milne and Gordon, Valentine began the birth defects clinic to meet the need for prenatal diagnosis and counselling in south western Ontario. This service became amalgamated with the university medical genetics and birth defects service in 1979.

As he was responsible for teaching undergraduates and graduate residents he was involved in curriculum planning and clinical teaching at the Children’s Hospital in London. And clinically, he demonstrated a special ability to diagnose esoteric conditions. He was elected as a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1977 and became a fellow of the Canadian College of Medical Geneticists in 1979.

He retired in 1986 as an emeritus professor of paediatrics. Almost immediately, he and Pamela moved to British Columbia, where they began part-time studies at the University of Victoria, he in fine art, where he graduated in 1999 with a bachelor of fine art degree with a distinction. He spent the next years as an involved grandfather: his enthusiasm for science and his ability to inspire curiosity in his grandchildren helped encourage them to continue on to university and postgraduate studies. Howard and Pamela travelled the world until Pam’s unexpected death in 2003.

Howard Valentine was truly a Renaissance man. He photographed and painted, and received awards for both. He sailed extensively in racing dinghies and later in his 26-foot boat Double Helix. He audited theatre classes into his nineties and took part fully in studio exercises, to the delight of his young classmates. He stayed enthusiastically engaged with technology and reading, so that he had knowledge of and an opinion on just about everything.

He died in Sidney, British Columbia, Canada. His life and career story is one punctuated by war and spanned the early days of clinical research when, prior to the advent of the instant statistics and the Internet, there were no strict protocols. His career made an impact on the world of paediatrics from its beginnings. His family misses his curiosity, intelligence and boundless energy.

Nicola Valentine

(Volume XII, page web)

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