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Biographical entry Pringle, Jean Anne Smellie (1930 - 2016)

MB ChB Glasgow 1959; FRCS 1994.

30 August 1930
31 March 2016


Jean Pringle (née Rankin) was head of the department of morbid anatomy at the Institute of Orthopaedics, London. She was born on 30 August 1936 to parents who were relatively elderly. Her mother was a teacher and her father was head of the technical college in Coatbridge, Scotland. He was over 60 at the time of her birth, but survived to see her graduate and wed, to his great joy.

A clever child, she was offered scholarships for both Glasgow High School for Girls and Hutcheson's Girls Grammar School, but chose the latter because of the fame of their hockey team. Jean played hockey for her school and later for Glasgow University - but always in goal because the goalie was allowed to kick the ball. She would have loved to have played football and, as a lifelong fan, had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the game.

She qualified in medicine in 1959 at Glasgow University, at a time when by law women could only form 20 per cent of the year intake. She prospered there and was particularly pleased to win the Hunter medal for anatomy.

She started her career at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow and worked successively for the professor of medicine, the professor of orthopaedics and then the professor of pathology.

She was set for a career in academic pathology, but she married Alexander Pringle, a physician, in 1962 and shortly afterwards her husband moved to a post at Hammersmith Hospital in London. Life started in London for them in a bedsit in Turnham Green. Jean obtained a registrar post in general pathology at the West London Hospital. The staff regarded her highly and offered her a house to ensured that they retained her services.

When her husband moved to Leeds in 1964, Jean had again to find a new post. This time it was in the Leeds University department of experimental pathology, where she gained experience in writing scientific papers and giving talks in public - something that she initially found to be an ordeal.

In 1967 the couple moved to Chingford in London, where she lived for the rest of her life. Her two sons were born in 1967 and 1968, and Jean initially decided to give up work, however, when the boys started school, she was persuaded to apply for a part time post in pathology with H A Sissons at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London and there she flourished.

She ended up being head of department and a world authority on the diagnosis and treatment of bone tumours. She owed her success to her knowledge of anatomy, her orthopaedic experience, but above all her God-given ability in pattern recognition and her keen eye for detail. She was author or co-author of over 100 scientific papers in the course of her career in bone pathology. She had an excellent recall of patients' names and their problems. She maintained a close link with her surgical colleagues and where possible she accompanied them on their ward rounds. She was particularly proud of receiving the award of FRCS by election in 1994 for her efforts.

She was a good amateur artist, and an expert in knitting, crochet, embroidery and flower arranging. In the last few years her memory began to fail and dementia caused her personality to change and her life became a challenge. Finally, she fell and broke her hip and, although the surgery was successful, she was not fated to survive. She died on 31 March 2016, aged 79. She was survived by her husband, her two sons (Hamish and Rob) and four grandchildren.

Alexander Pringle

The Royal College of Surgeons of England