Harold Attwood was a distinguished pathologist, teacher and medical historian whose leadership in the field of medical history was of special significance.
Harold Dallas Attwood was born in Scotland in 1928 and died in Melbourne on 8 June 2005. His son, Alan Attwood, wrote in his obituary of Harold's early life, published in The Age on 27 June 2005:
'Harold Attwood, who has died peacefully in Melbourne after a long illness, was a distinguished pathologist, teacher and medical historian. He was also blessed with a sense of humour and resolute determination not to take himself too seriously—demonstrated in a 'Who's Who entry that, after citing his numerous qualifications and achievements, listed his recreations as 'painting and fencing'. Meaning that he once built a fence and painted it.
He was a Scot who emigrated to Australia with his young family in 1961 and came to love Australian wildlife and landscapes. He grew up in a tenement in Dundee, where his father was a cabinetmaker and his mother a former assistant in a fish shop. Despite the modest circumstances--their's was one of four flats, sharing one lavatory on a staircase--his parents were generous and supportive. Both Harold and his older brother, Jimmy, went on to have successful academic careers, far from the back streets of Dundee.'
Harold had a sickly childhood caused by a congenital condition which required invasive treatments and major surgery during his early twenties. These experiences instilled in him a lifelong interest in medicine and great empathy with his patients.
He graduated in Medicine from St Andrews in 1951 with the gold medal in Medicine ('the most distinguished MBChB for the year'). After an intern year in the USA and a post in Dundee, he became interested in pathology as a career. Initially, this interest was pursued with Professor AC Lendrum, at the Dundee Royal Infirmary, as lecturer in pathology. During this time his research in the area of amniotic fluid embolism as a cause of maternal death led to the award of Doctor of Medicine (St Andrews) in 1957. His work was also well-known to Rupert A Willis, a famous expatriate Australian pathologist in Leeds, who may have had some influence over Harold's later decision to emigrate to Australia. In 1957 Harold returned to the USA to work at Yale with Averill A Liebow. From 1959-1961 he was senior pathologist to Pfizer Ltd in Kent, England, where he developed an interest in the spectrum of naturally occurring pathological changes in experimental animals.
In 1961 Harold Attwood took up an appointment as assistant director of pathology at the Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, with HF Bettinger, and in 1962 he became a member of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia. His experimental work and further clinical studies in amniotic embolism gained a Melbourne MD in 1964. At the same time he became a founder member of the Royal College of Pathologists (UK) and he was appointed as pathologist to the committees set up to monitor perinatal and maternal mortality in Victoria. The reports of these committees had a major influence on clinical improvement in these areas. In 1965 he became director of pathology at the Royal Women's Hospital. In recognition of this appointment, the university appointed him senior associate with an annual honorarium of £100.
Also in 1965 the Austin Hospital was being established as a teaching hospital of the University of Melbourne, after the Commonwealth Government agreed to fund an increase in the number of medical students, from 160 to 240. As part of this expansion, the university reached an agreement with the Austin Hospital to establish a second chair in pathology, to be based at the hospital, and for the appointee to be head of the hospital department. Harold Attwood applied, and was eventually appointed to this second chair in March 1966, with an annual salary of $11,300.
Harold built a strong department over the next 10 years, but it was not strong enough to withstand the politics of Austin Doyle, the professor of medicine. In the mid 1970s, as the university began to introduce a new 'integrated' medical curriculum, Harold found himself in a situation in which the teaching load of pathology was being reduced. In late 1977 Harold indicated his desire to resign from the position as he foresaw that the reduction in teaching load would financially cripple the academic side of the department at the Austin Hospital.
Other calamitous events occurred around this time: his previously inactive tuberculosis became reactivated, requiring surgical intervention, and his wife, Isobel, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thus, his eventual re-location from the Austin Hospital back to the Parkville campus, together with his loyal secretary, Ms Edna Bird, in February 1980, must have come with some sense of-relief. With this change he was able to pursue his interests in medical history and in curating the pathology and medical history museums. He continued to give lectures and tutorials to medical students for many years, and was perhaps best appreciated for his introductory lecture on the value of the autopsy (an area of pathological science which has now, ironically, virtually disappeared in the current version of the 'new curriculum').
His leadership in the field of medical history was of special significance. He was co-editor of several volumes of papers for the Medical History Unit. In addition, in 1986, he brought together the original drawings of William Cliff to produce a magnificent facsimile edition of The Morbid Anatomy of the Human Body by Matthew Baillie (1799).
Harold was at various times chairman of the AMA Section of Medical History, honorary historian to the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, co-editor of the Medical History Australia Newsletter and secretary of the Australian Society of the History of Medicine.
Alan Attwood's obituary for his father concludes:
'Many of the doctors who treated him in recent years were former students. They remembered him with admiration and affection. His interests outside medicine ranged from reading to woodworking (a trait handed on from his father), wombats to wine.
Even in his last months he could enjoy a glimpse of sky, the smell of a rose or the sight of birds feeding. He endures in all the books he left behind (many of them annotated) and the countless people he touched in different ways. He was a teacher, a writer, a reader. Above all else, he was a gentleman.'
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