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Biographical entry Symmers, William St Clair (1917 - 2000)

Hon FRCS 1979; MB BCh BAO Belfast 1939; MD 1946; PhD Birmingham 1953; DSc London 1979; MRCP 1946; FRCP 1959; FRCPath 1963; MRCP Edinburgh 1965; FRCPA 1967; MRCP Ireland 1976; FRCP Ireland 1978; FRCP Edinburgh 1979; FFPath RCPI 1982.

16 August 1917
25 October 2000


William St Clair Symmers held the Chair of Pathology at Charing Cross. He was born on 16 August 1917 in Belfast, where his father, William St Clair Symmers, an American who had been born in South Carolina and trained at the University of Aberdeen, was Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology, having before that held the Chair at the Government Medical School in Cairo. His mother, Marion Latimer MacAlpine Macredie, came from Sydney, New South Wales, where her father was an architect. His uncle, Douglas Symmers, was Professor of Pathology at Cornell, New York. Among his medical cousins were Arthur Smith FRCS and Charles James Wright FRCS. William had a brilliant academic career. He attended Ashleigh House School in Belfast, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen's University, Belfast, where he won the Johnson Symingon medal for anatomy, the Sinclair medal for surgery in 1939, and gained first place in the annual scholarships from 1935 to 1939. During his clinical training, he obtained the Malcolm exhibition, the McQuitty scholarship, the Smith prize and the McGrath clinical scholarships in his final year. He spent a year on the surgical unit at Belfast, where his chief, P T Crymble, encouraged him to follow a career in surgery. He also fell in love with the theatre sister. He joined the RNVR in 1940, serving until 1946.

His career now changed direction and, to the disappointment of Crymble, he became interested in pathology. After the war, he joined G Payling Wright's team at Guy's, moving on to Oxford in the following year, as demonstrator, senior assistant and finally consultant at the Radcliffe Infirmary in 1948, which he combined with a consultancy at Birmingham. In 1953, he was appointed to the Chair of Pathology at Charing Cross, where he remained until his retirement in 1982.

He was known throughout the world for his standard textbook (edited with Payling Wright) Systemic pathology (Edinburgh and New York, Churchill Livingstone) and for his numerous publications, particularly on the mycoses.

He was recognised by numerous honorary degrees and distinctions, including the honorary Fellowship of the College, the Yamagiwa medal and the Shield of the Red Gate from Tokyo, the Scott-Heron medal from the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, and the Morgagni medal from the University of Padua.

He married his theatre sister, Jean Noble Wright, in 1941, and had one son, who entered general practice in Edinburgh. He died on 25 October 2000.

Sources used to compile this entry: [].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England