Obituary: Professor Sir Theo Crawford
Tuesday 03 August 1993
THEO CRAWFORD, one of Britain's best-known pathologists, served as Director of Laboratory Services at St George's Hospital Medical School from the unusually young age of 35 and held the Chair of Pathology at that school from 1948 until his retirement in 1977.
On arriving in London after the war, Crawford was confronted by the triple task of creating laboratories capable of providing up-to-date and comprehensive services to the hospital, of establishing a research programme and of revitalising the undergraduate teaching of pathology in what was then London's smallest medical school. In all of these he succeeded supremely well.
On the hospital service side, he was one of the first to recognise that the day of the general pathologist was over and to establish specialist departments in Medical Microbiology, Chemical Pathology and Haematology. Though charged with the overall directorship of the laboratories, he was a big enough man to promote the establishment of independent university chairs in these disciplines and to encourage their holders to develop along their own lines.
From the start he established a departmental research interest in arterial disease which persists at St George's to this day. As a department head, he had the by no means common gift of helping his junior colleagues with their research programmes without at the same time attempting to dominate them. His own publications were extremely innovative for their day and served as finger-posts pointing to significant new insights in coronary artery disease. His views on the importance of thrombosis in this context have now been amply justified and have influenced the development of modern treatment for acute heart attack.
Crawford did not confine his activities at St George's to the laboratories, and, together with a small number of friends and colleagues, he played a significant role in converting St George's from the smallest medical school in London to one of the largest. He was an excellent committee man who spoke relatively little at meetings, but whose interventions were wonderfully timed and most persuasive.
He realised early on that pathology in Britain would not thrive in the absence of an organisational focus of its own and thus was a leading force behind the formation of the College of Pathologists. He was the college's first Registrar and in 1969 became its President. His presidency was marked by the granting of a Royal Charter to the College in 1970.
Though his own research activities were focused on the field of heart disease, Crawford took a keen and constructive interest in cancer research, playing an important role in the affairs of the Cancer Research Campaign. He held several offices within the organisation and was chairman of the Scientific Committee between 1970 and 1977. He was a man of remarkable energy and whatever task he took on was carried out in wholehearted fashion and with the greatest degree of efficiency and dispatch.
Crawford's imposing presence, coupled with a degree of natural shyness, could make him appear a somewhat austere and remote figure, but he was a warm, kind and caring man with a delightful sense of humour. He was always willing and ready to help others with their problems, this help being given with a remarkable degree of delicacy and discretion which was much appreciated by the recipients.
Despite his busy professional life, he found time to pursue outside interests. He had loved music all his life and took great pleasure in his piano and cello. Gardening took an equal place in his affections; it is a measure of his drive to create something good for the future that he was still planting trees in his eighth decade.
In his personal life, Theo Crawford was blessed by two happy marriages. In 1938 he married Margaret Green, who was herself a distinguished research worker in the field of the epidemiology of coronary heart disease. She died in 1973. His second marriage was to Priscilla Chater, the first Secretary to the Royal College of Pathologists, whose care and devotion eased the burdens imposed by the passing years and who survives him. His five children were a great source of pride and pleasure to him; equally he was a fond and proud grandfather.
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