Hugh Bernard Langford Russell

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 30 November 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1176
  1. Neil Edward

Hugh Russell was born and received his early education in New Zealand. Following qualification in 1941 he saw active service as a medical officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) in the Mediterranean and Far East. He obtained the DTM&H in 1948 and subsequently spent several years in the Colonial Medical Service in Ghana. His wide experience of tropical medicine and a further qualification in public health made him ideally suited for work with the World Health Organization (WHO), at that time a young organisation with a challenging global mission. Initially he was based in the eastern Mediterranean with assignments in, among other countries, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and latterly in South East Asia, principally in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Burma. His epidemiological studies of disease patterns in northern Ethiopia in 1956, conducted at the request of Emperor Haile Selassie to WHO, was widely acclaimed as a model of excellence in investigative epidemiology. His office was a tent; his desk, his knee; his data recorded in notebooks with a pencil. The study, combined with necessarily limited preventive and curative health care to the local population was life saving to countless; he was doctor first and epidemiologist second. His move in 1967 from the field to academia brought to the University of Edinburgh a teacher who had few peers in the combined disciplines of epidemiology and tropical medicine.

He was a tall, gentle man whose calm, modest manner led to him being known as “the quiet doctor.” His wife Barbara, a colleague epidemiologist, and their two children, Gregory and Sarah, survive him. His older brother, Professor Sir Peter Russell, the distinguished Oxford Hispanic scholar, died in June 2006.


  • Former epidemiologist World Health Organization and senior lecturer University of Edinburgh (b Christchurch, New Zealand, 1916; q St Thomas' Hospital Medical School 1941; DTM&H, DPH, FFPHM), died from pulmonary fibrosis on 12 May 2006.

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