JOSEPH MORRISON WHITE was one of the early pioneers in Britain to apply principles of basic science to the care of patients with blood disease. His particular interests and talents lay in the investigation and management of disorder of the haemoglobin molecule, especially, but not exclusively, that of sickle-cell anaemia.
Joe White was educated at Chatham House Grammar School, Ramsgate, and Sheffield University. He qualified with distinction in 1964 and almost at once began the study of blood diseases, attracted by the close association of laboratory investigation and clinical practice which the speciality
He was appointed to his first specialist post in Oxford as Senior House Officer in Pathology in 1966. In 1967 he took up a training post in the Department of Haematology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School Hammersmith Hospital under Professor JV Dacie, where he embarked on a research programme into the relationship between structural alterations in the blood pigment molecule, haemoglobin, and the functional effects produced thereby. It was a very exciting time in the development of medical knowledge.
Sickle-cell anaemia, a severe inherited blood disorder prevalent in parts of Africa and the Gulf area, was already known to have a molecular basis but the structure of haemoglobin in detail had only just been described by Max Perutz and John Kendrew in Cambridge.
White studied abnormalities which caused the molecule to be inherently unstable and the anaemia which resulted from this instability, submitting his work for the degree of MD in 1974, for which he was awarded the Gold Medal. He was appointed Senior Lecturer at the RPMS in 1975 but almost immediately was offered the Chair in Haematology at King's College Hospital, which he took up in 1975. He transferred his interests to setting up a service for the care of patients with sickle-cell anaemia, laying the foundation for an integrated approach to the management of sickle-cell disease from the laboratory to the community, a service which he bequeathed to his successors when he left King's in 1983 to become Director of Pathology at the Al Cournishe Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
Joe White's personal life was turbulent but his troubles never interfered with his academic enthusiasm and clinical devotion. He was an intensely private individual though a good friend to others, inspiring great affection from technical and junior staff. His relaxed attitude with his scientific and clinical associates produced a happy and productive working environment.
He was desperately shy at public speaking, at least in his early days, and suffered agonies at the demands put upon him in this way because of his academic success. Getting White to the lectern at large international meetings often left his colleagues, as well as himself, exhausted. At King's, too, he found the high-profile role of university professor difficult, particularly dealing with staff and colleagues in a managerial capacity. Subsequently, he devoted his time to developing pathology services and postgraduate education in the Middle East, in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Teaching, research and laboratory practice remained enduring enthusiasms. Three or four years ego he was diagnosed as having multiple myeloma, the problems of which he typically kept from his friends and family. His generosity of spirit always made sure that others were amused and not burdened by his troubles, to the extent that few realised his illness had returned and progressed. He died at Salisbury aged 54.
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