Obituary: Professor Alan Woodruff

Alan Waller Woodruff, physician, specialist in tropical diseases, born Sunderland 27 June 1916, House Physician and House Surgeon Royal Victoria Infirmary Newcastle upon Tyne 1939-40, MO and Medical Specialist RAFVR 1940-46, Medical Registrar Royal Victoria Infirmary Newcastle upon Tyne 1946-48, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Tropical Medicine London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 1948-52, First Assistant Hospital for Tropical Diseases University College Hospital London 1948- 52, Physician 1952-81, Wellcome Professor of Clinical Tropical Medicine London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 1952-81, President Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 1973-75, Medical Society of London 1975-76, CMG 1978, Professor of Medicine University of Juba 1981-92, OBE 1989, married 1946 Helen Arnold (two sons, one daughter), died Khartoum 12 October 1992.

ALAN WOODRUFF was an internationally known figure in tropical medicine and one of Britain's foremost experts in the field. He died in Khartoum, where he was teaching the undergraduate medical students from the University of Juba to whom he had devoted much of the last 11 years since his retirement from the Wellcome Chair of Clinical Tropical Medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Woodruff was born in Sunderland in 1916, the son of a naval architect. He attended Bede Collegiate School in Sunderland and entered Durham University to read medicine, graduating with honours in 1939. After training in internal medicine in Newcastle upon Tyne he served in India and Burma, with the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve. Then he entered the speciality of tropical medicine, which was to occupy the remainder of his life. By this time he had obtained his MD (Durham), DTM&H (England) and MRCP (London). In 1948 he became First Assistant at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and Senior Lecturer in Clinical Tropical Medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He was appointed to the Wellcome Chair of Clinical Tropical Medicine at London School in 1952. He served both institutions until 1981.

Woodruff's work during these years comprised care of patients at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, teaching postgraduate students undertaking courses at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the supervision of his PhD students and administration both in the school and the hospital. His own research interests were anaemia, including that caused by parasitic infections and nutritional disorders. He undertook field- work in Africa and Central America on onchocerciasis (river blindness) and carried out trials of drug treatment for this condition in this country. He was concerned to promote laboratory research within the London School and later endowed a medal to be awarded annually to the best PhD thesis produced by a student in one of the laboratory departments.

He was one of the first people in Britain to draw attention to the dangers posed by the intestinal worm of dogs Toxocara. The larval form of this parasite causes disease in the eye and other sites in humans, particularly children. His concern in this work was to understand the transmission of the disease, to improve methods for diagnosis and treatment and, above all, to make others aware of how to prevent it.

His work on Toxocara and other subjects was published in the medical literature. He edited and contributed to specialist volumes on tropical medicine and wrote chapters on tropical diseases for several standard medical textbooks.

As his reputation grew, demands upon his time increased. He was visiting professor and examiner to universities in the Middle East and in Africa. He served the World Health Organisation on expert advisory panels on parasitic diseases, onchocerciasis and resistance of malaria parasites. He was Honorary Consultant in Tropical Medicine to the Army and to British Airways. He contributed to the work of the Overseas Development Administration through membership of its Medical Committee and to the work of Medical Research Council specialist committees. He gave a number of invited lectures including the Goulstonian (1954) and Watson-Smith (1970) lectures of the Royal College of Physicians, London, the Lettsomian Lecture of the Medical Society of London (1969) and the Halliburton Hume Lecture of Newcastle upon Tyne University (1981). The last must have given him particular pleasure as he retained throughout his life a deep loyalty to the north-east of England and to his university. He was President of the Durham University Society from 1963 to 1973.

Societies devoted to medicine and tropical medicine around the world marked his contributions with honorary membership including the Burma Medical Association, the Societe de Pathologie Exotique (Paris), the Societe Belge de Medecine Tropicale, the Brazilian Society of Tropical Medicine and the Canadian Society of Tropical Medicine and International Health. Awards he received included the Katherine Bishop Harman Prize of the British Medical Association, the Gold Medal of the University of Pernambuco and the Cullen Prize of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. He was appointed CMG in 1978 and OBE in 1989.

Woodruff was Honorary Secretary (1957-71) and President (1973-75) of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and President of the Medical Society of London (1975-76). He had a strong interest in history both medical and non-medical and wrote on his interpretation of accounts of Charles Darwin's illness eschewing the notion that Darwin had contracted Chagas' disease during his visit to South America. He served as President of the Historical Section of the Royal Society of Medicine (1977-79).

Woodruff was convinced of the need to maintain the Hospital for Tropical Diseases as a centre for patient care, teaching and clinical research and that its survival depended on the identity and integrity of the hospital and close contact between clinical and laboratory departments. This struggle for survival still continues.

He was a skilled artist, producing wood-engravings, examples of which decorated his Christmas cards. He was an astronomer who not only could guide observers around the heavens but also grind the mirrors and build telescopes. He had represented his university at tennis as a student and returned to this sport in Sudan, winning the Veterans Doubles Tennis Championship there.

Loyalty was a virtue he exemplified. He had undertaken to help the medical school in the University of Juba in the south of Sudan and in September 1981 went there as Professor of Medicine with his wife, Helen, and two young colleagues from Britain. He told me that he would see the first group of students through to qualification.

Four or five years extended to 11. During these years the south of Sudan and Juba in particular have been beset by difficulties and dangers. Despite these he continued to practise and teach there and went on teaching when students and staff from Juba had been transferred to Khartoum because of the isolation of Juba by rebel activities.

At home Alan was a warm and welcoming host and was supported throughout his career by Helen. She continued to visit the Sudan as much as her health and her own commitments would permit.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own