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Sir David Weatherall (second from right) with HRH the Princess Royal at the official opening of the (then) Institute of Molecular Medicine

I have just heard of the death of Sir David Weatherall at the weekend, which was very sad news indeed although he had been unwell for some time. He was one of the giants of medicine in Oxford.

David was appointed as the Nuffield Professor of Clinical Medicine at the same time as I was appointed Nuffield Professor of Surgery in 1973. We both took up our appointments around the middle of 1974 and in fact started work on the same day!

I well remember when we met up after a few days David saying “Morris, I am from Liverpool and you are from Australia and in terms of Oxford, we are both equally foreign. We must stick together”. That we certainly did and every Saturday morning (which became a ritual) we used to meet for coffee in my office or his office and discuss what had been done and what needed to be done in terms of committees, agendas, etc. We were good friends as well as colleagues.

David was a very good general physician although his international renown was in the field of clinical haematology and the genetics of thalassaemia, for which he received the prestigious Lasker Award in 2010. In those days, I was responsible for all the surgical requirements of the haematology unit and so saw a lot of David at a clinical level. This involved everything from splenectomies for hypersplenism to more mundane general surgical problems such as incision of perianal abscesses. He was also for several years the unbiased physician that I had assess all the potential living donors of a kidney for transplantation. David was a remarkable clinical scientist and one of the all-time stars of Oxford medicine. 

We were good friends and the only time that we had cross words was when I refused to move my research team into the new Institute of Molecular Medicine, which he founded and now known as the Weatherall Institute. My reasons for not moving, attractive as it was, is that I had all my research laboratories and clinical wards on Level 6 with my office in the middle and so I could keep a close eye on everything that was being done. I also had an open-door policy for the research workers and the clinical trainees, consultants, etc. If we had of moved the research team to the Institute, then I have no doubt that I would have seen much less of them as all our clinical responsibilities were on level 6 of the JR2, but quite removed from the Institute. David was upset about that decision, but eventually did fully accept why it was being made. Selfish reasons you might say, but I still was determined that research in a department of surgery would remain embedded in that department.

We, and certainly I, shall always remember David with affection and will miss him for his professionalism and clinical acumen which was completely separate to his brilliant research activities, but also for his sometimes acerbic wit.

Oxford University pays tribute to Sir David Weatherall.