Obituary: Professor Herbert Spencer
Saturday 17 July 1993
HERBERT SPENCER was renowned for his expertise on diseases of the lung and on tropical diseases especially those caused by tropical parasites. His textbooks Pathology of the Lung (1962) and Tropical Pathology (1973) were internationally acclaimed and remain works of reference to this day. Pathologists from all over the world sent samples to Spencer for a second opinion and he used these for postgraduate teaching within his department at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, in London, and for instructing the many visitors he received for further training.
Spencer was born in 1915 and educated at Highgate School and St Mary's Hospital Medical School where he qualified in medicine with honours in 1937. He proceeded to take postgraduate qualifications in both medicine and surgery before being called up into the RAMC where he served as a specialist pathologist and specialist surgeon in the Middle East from 1942 to 1947, rising to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in charge of laboratory services in Cairo. It was at this time that he developed an interest in tropical medicine and parasitology.
On demobilisation from the Army Spencer returned as assistant pathologist to the Central Histology Laboratories of the former London County Council before being appointed to the Department of Morbid Anatomy at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in 1950. Here he remained until his retirement in 1980 having climbed the academic ladder to the Chair of Morbid Anatomy in 1965. During this time he established his international reputation as an expert on the pathology of the lung.
Spencer kept up his interest in tropical pathology and for many years provided a postal histopathology service for several countries in Africa but especially for Malawi. His international reputation attracted visitors from all quarters of the globe to learn from his vast experience. They were always welcomed with kindness and courtesy. Spencer was an excellent teacher both of undergraduate and postgraduate students. He remained loyal to his early surgical leanings and was an examiner for the Royal College of Surgeons from 1958 to 1970.
Following his retirement from St Thomas's he worked for some years in the pathology department at St Mary's Hospital Medical School and at the same time was a consultant to the histopathology unit at the Royal College of Surgeons/Imperial Cancer Research Fund, providing a valuable diagnostic service on difficult problems submitted by pathologists for a second opinion. Spencer was not a medical politician although he became a founder fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists. He preferred to leave it to others to sit on committees while he pursued his academic interests.
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