Lives of the fellows

Hubert Frank Woods

b.18 November 1937 d.31 January 2016
CBE(2001) BSc Leeds(1962) BM BCh Oxon(1965) MRCP(1968) DPhil(1970) FRCP(1978) FFPM(1989) FRCP Edin(1991) Hon FFOM(1994) FIFST(1996) FMedSci(1998)

Frank Woods was professor of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics and Sir George Franklin professor of medicine at the University of Sheffield, and variously held posts of head of the university department of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, dean of the faculty of medicine and dentistry, and director of the division of clinical sciences. He sat on a number of Government and other advisory committees, and wrote 125 papers in refereed journals, two books, 47 book chapters and invited reviews, and 121 abstracts and short papers.

Frank was born in Leeds to Hubert George Woods, a woollen merchant, and Julia Augusta Woods née Kaminski, who was originally from Russia. He arrived relatively late in his parents’ lives and was on his own from his early twenties save for his half-sister Rose, 24 years his senior. Education and time spent studying were high priorities and his parents encouraged an enquiring mind and a love of books that continued throughout his life.

During the Second World War the family moved temporarily to Penrith and Pooley Bridge in the Lake District, an area that he came to love deeply. In 1946 they returned to Leeds and Frank attended Ingledew College preparatory school, before going back to Cumbria to attend St Bees School from 1951 to 1957. His academic abilities were recognised in almost every subject, with a number of awards and prizes. French, a compulsory subject for university entrance, was however only passed at the tenth attempt. He became a staff sergeant in the Combined Cadet Force, was the champion debater for a number of years and in due course became head of house and a school prefect. He remained in contact with the school as a governor for many years until 2007, although he was asked back as chairman in 2013 for a two-year period that was to see the closure of the school – a sad end to his romance with Cumbria.

He attended Leeds University from 1957 to 1962, firstly studying biochemistry. In 1958 he commenced the two-year pre-clinical course in medicine, before returning to complete his biochemistry degree. For his clinical medical training he was awarded an open scholarship to Pembroke College, Oxford, based at Osler House. Junior officer posts followed at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, and at Hammersmith Hospital, London.

From 1967 he held registrar and lecturer posts in Sir George Pickering’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII p.464] regius department of medicine at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. His research commitment was under the supervision of Sir Hans Krebs [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.325] in the Nuffield metabolic research laboratories. This led to him being awarded his DPhil in 1971, with a thesis on carbohydrate metabolism of the liver. Further research interests over the years included the metabolism and kinetics of drugs and other xenobiotics, the identification and assessment of risk in relation to chemicals in food, and evaluation of drugs in the treatment of endocrine tumours.

In 1976 he was appointed professor and head of the department of clinical pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of Sheffield and an honorary consultant physician to the local health authority. From 1989 to 1998 he was dean of the Sheffield University faculty of medicine and dentistry, and in 1990 he was made Sir George Franklin professor of medicine. From 1998 until his retirement in 2003 he was director of the division of clinical sciences. Additionally, he was also public orator for the university, where he used his sonorous voice and impeccable sense of timing to effect, also satisfying something of the thespian in his character.

Outside his work for the University of Sheffield, he held a number of appointments and sat on several Government and other advisory committees, including: chair of the Department of Health’s committee on toxicity of chemicals in food, consumer products and the environment (from 1992 to 2002), for which he was awarded a CBE in 2001; member of the Ministry of Agriculture’s food advisory committee (from 1992 to 2002); member of the Ministry of Agriculture’s advisory committee on novel foods and processes (from 1992 to 2002); and chair of various working groups, including on phytoestrogens and health, peanut allergy, organophosphates, risk assessment of mixtures of pesticides and similar substances and a sub-group to consider the health effects of the Lowermoor water pollution incident. From 1996 to 1998 he was a non-executive member of Rampton Hospital Authority in Nottinghamshire. From 1999 to 2002 he was deputy and then chair of the General Medical Council’s health committee and was also an adviser to the Jockey Club and the British Lawn Tennis Association.

In 1966 Frank married Hilary Cox, a nurse, and they had three children – Christopher, Katharine and Rebecca. Hilary died in 1999 and in 2004 he married Rosemary née Starling.

His retirement from the University of Sheffield and his health authority posts in September 2003 enabled more time for his love of gardening (particularly growing vegetables, even though he was never keen on eating the result of his efforts), fly fishing (with attendant enjoyment of the company of friends and a high class picnic) and, from 2008, overseeing the renovation of an 18th century house in Buckinghamshire. His retirement also enabled him to indulge in his considerable interest in books and reading, and Frank took enormous pleasure from adding to his library of rare books.

To some who met him for the first time, Frank could appear formidable, but this countenance hid a person of great humour, insight and sensitivity, who delighted in the absurd and had particular empathy with the outsider and underdog. He was highly committed to education and research, the accessibility and dissemination of knowledge and feeding his own hunger for information. He was a great raconteur. He enjoyed the conviviality of his family and close friendships, some of the latter going back to his preparatory school days, with whom he enjoyed the pleasure of sharing a meal accompanied by a good claret.

He was survived by his half-sister (aged 102), second wife, three children and five grandchildren.

The Woods family

[Hubert Frank Woods interviewed by Ebru Soytemel, March 2004, Wellcome Trust Course Oral History Interviews, catalogue reference C646/78, The British Library – accessed 26 July 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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