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Biographical entry Doll, Sir William Richard Shaboe (1912 - 2005)

Hon FRCS 1997; FRS 1966; CH 1996; Kt 1971; OBE 1956; MB BS London 1937; MD 1945; DSc 1958; FRCP 1957; Hon FFPHM 1974; Hon FRCGP 1978; Hon FOM 1987; Hon FRCOG 1992.

28 October 1912
Hampton, Middlesex, UK
24 July 2005


Sir Richard Doll, the most distinguished epidemiologist of his generation, established that smoking causes cancer and heart disease. Born in Hampton, Middlesex, on 28 October 1912, he was the son of Henry William Doll, a general practitioner, and Amy Kathleen Shaboe. He was educated at Westminster and St Thomas’ Hospital, doing junior jobs as casualty officer, anaesthetist and house physician. He began his research career under Paul Wood at Hammersmith, while working as a resident medical officer at the London Clinic.

When war broke out he was called up into the RAMC, where he served as a battalion medical officer at Dunkirk, was posted to a hospital ship, and served in the invasion of Sicily. He contracted tuberculosis of the kidney in 1944, underwent a nephrectomy, and was discharged in early 1945.

He took a course on statistics under Sir Austin Bradford Hill, who was impressed by him, and in 1948 that he went to work with Bradford Hill at the Medical Research Council. They began to study the causes of the huge increase in deaths from cancer of the lung. It was a time when smoking was regarded as normal and harmless. Their preliminary study of hospital patients with cancer of the lung and other diseases showed, to their surprise, that those with lung cancer were smokers, those with other diseases were not. This was confirmed by a prospective study on doctors’ smoking habits. At this stage Doll himself gave up smoking.

Immensely distinguished, honoured by innumerable institutions, Doll was a genial and likeable man whose juniors adored him. One of his last public speeches was to a meeting of the Oxford Medical Graduates Club, where to the relief of his audience he showed that there was no statistical harm done by wine. When asked how much, he replied: “enough”.

Doll married Joan Mary Faulkner in 1949. They had a son and daughter. He died on 24 July 2005.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2005 331 295, with portrait; The Telegraph 25 July 2005.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England