Obituary:Professor Ronald Lane

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The Independent Online
Ronald Lane became the first ever Professor of Occupational Health when he was appointed to a chair in Manchester University in 1945. This was the first chair in this discipline and the first university department of occupational health. During his 19-year tenure, he engendered advances and saw great changes world-wide. From being a small speciality, industrial medicine, or occupational heath, expanded and other chairs were founded in Newcastle and London, and later in Birmingham.

Lane's weekly outpatient sessions at Manchester Royal Infirmary, dealing with industrial diseases and their related problems and rehabilitation, attracted many doctors. These sessions were a source of satisfaction and, indeed, pleasure to the professor and he would often cut short holidays rather than miss them. He also instituted courses for doctors both already in industry and wanting to enter it. The two-year part-time course for the Diploma in Industrial Health was an innovation which has stood the test of time.

Lane gradually increased the staff of his department and the scope of his work. At least nine of his staff became professors - a great achievement for a relatively small department. Research on matters as diverse as lead and cadmium poisoning, disease in the cotton industry, electric shock, noise-induced hearing loss, rehabilitation and industrial hygiene reflect his wide interests.

Born in 1897, the son of a schoolmaster, Ronald Lane was educated at Simon Langton School, Canterbury, and later Guy's Hospital Medical School. He was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps for four years during the First World War, one of the longest survivors of that select group (which became the Royal Air Force in 1918). After demobilisation in 1919, he had a great desire to become a doctor. He used to tell how difficult it was then for parents to finance the five years in medical school and how it was his savings and gratuity from years of service which enabled him to attain his early ambition.

He qualified in 1923 and the following year gained the higher qualification of MRCP (London) after entering general practice in Nottingham. After two years, however, he realised he had not settled down in practice. Even at that early stage in his career, although he had no training or experience as a doctor in industry, he applied for and got the post of full-time medical officer to the Chloride company, manufacturers of batteries in Manchester, where there was a serious incidence of lead poisoning. This crippling industrial disease was rife in many industries throughout the world. Lane's pioneering work at Chloride led to a virtual elimination of the scourge wherever the regime which he had developed was applied, and he became a world authority on the subject.

In the inter-war years, there were few doctors in industry. From these men (no women in those days) was formed in 1935 the Association of Industrial Medical Officers, later to be named the Society of Occupational Medicine, said to have been founded in a pub in London. There were 25 original members of whom Lane was one, and he held the office of president from 1939 to 1941. It is now an important body of men and women, some 2,000 strong.

Lane firmly held the view that the practice of industrial medicine is incomplete unless it is related to clinical medicine and to the environment. In 1935, he was appointed Honorary Physician to the Salford Royal Hospital where, in addition to clinical work, he developed his abiding interest in the rehabilitation of workers. The importance of this during the Second World War, when the industrial workforce was being depleted as fit men and women were absorbed into the forces, increased greatly. Ernest Bevin was then the equivalent of Minister of Labour and he enlisted Lane to assist in setting up rehabilitation courses for the disabled and the previously unemployed. A great rapport build up between these two men and the success of their efforts was reported by Lane in his 1977 lecture "My Fifty Years in Industrial Medicine". Those of us who experienced these early years will never forget the fantastic transformation which took place in the health and morale of these people.

Lane continued with the Chloride company until 1945, when he was appointed Professor of the new Nuffield Department of Occupational Health in Manchester University and Honorary Consultant Physician to the teaching hospital, the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

In his 31 years of retirement, he kept in touch with his old department and with developments in his chosen speciality. He described his 50 years in industrial medicine as "a golden age: never was a half-century so crowded with new advances". With characteristic modesty, he does not even hint that so much of this progress was due to his own commitment and original thought.

Ronald Lane was also a humane being, understanding, sympathetic and helpful, always ready to listen, to give good advice and practical help. Those of us who were fortunate to enjoy his friendship look back over the years to the fun, the laughter and the enjoyment we had in his company.

He was, in his earlier years, a scratch golfer; he later once went round a course in his age in years, and played until he was 96. Bridge gave him great pleasure and he was not lacking in skill. We played 10 days before his death and he won some money from me. Even at 97, his mind had been spared in abundant measure.

During his distinguished career, Lane gained many degrees, diplomas and fellowships, but I think to him the highlight was his appointment as CBE in 1957. The medical tradition is now firmly established in his family; his son Peter is Emeritus Professor of Medicine (Dermatology) in Saskatoon, Canada, and his grandson David is resident in ophthalmology.

T. S. Scott

Ronald Epey Lane, industrial physician: born 2 July 1897; Nuffield Professor of Occupational Health, Manchester University 1945-65 (Emeritus); Honorary Consulting Physician, Manchester Royal Infirmary 1945-95; CBE 1957; married 1924 Winifred E. Tickner (died 1981; one son, and one daughter deceased), 1982 Ida Bailey (died 1991); died 14 March 1995.