David Charles Jeremy Bassett

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 21 July 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3919
  1. Elisha Tikasingh

David Charles Jeremy Bassett, bacteriologist, who worked in London, Trinidad and Tobago, Singapore and Honk Kong, died in Trinidad on March 10, 2014.

David Bassett was born to Reginald John and Pauline Margaret Bassett in Southampton, England. After graduating from high school, he took a job as laboratory technician in microbiology, after which he served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Germany and became adept in phlebotomy. His supervisor told him one day that he was not suited for the army and that he should go to medical school. This he did, but first he attained an associateship in bacteriology from the Institute of Biomedical Sciences.

While at medical school he met and married Marilyn “Bunty” Downton, with whom he had three children. He did not like obstetrics and gynaecology and consequently did not initially pass this aspect of the programme. Funding for his medical education therefore came to an end, but he had a young family to support, so he took a job as an orderly in a hospital, to earn some money. The story is told that doctors and technicians in the hospital where he worked knew of his adeptness in taking blood samples, and when they were having difficulty in finding the veins of their patients they would call on “Orderly David” for assistance. He did finish medical school at the University of London and won a prize for pathology.

Over the following two years he worked as a registrar at Whipps Cross Hospital and John and Elizabeth Hospital. In 1960 he moved to Guy’s Hospital as a trainee bacteriologist, where he remained until 1962. From 1962 to 1965 he was senior registrar at the Wrexham Hospital Group in Wales and then went to the Trinidad Regional Virus Laboratory in October 1965, as an external member of the scientific staff of the UK Medical Research Council. He arrived in the middle of a large outbreak of acute glomerulonephritis in south Trinidad. David was shifted there to work with Theo Poon-King, with a grant from the UK Medical Research Council. At first, he visited the hospitals in San Fernando, Port of Spain, and Arima, but towards mid-1966, researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago established a streptococcal disease unit in San Fernando with Poon-King, and David confined his work to the Port of Spain General Hospital, collaborating with John Arneaud, M McDowall, and R Ramkissoon. In his work, he also collaborated with M T Parker of the Central Public Health Laboratory in London’s Colindale, to whom he sent some of the isolates of Streptococcus pyogenes he had obtained in Trinidad. David had isolated and Parker had identified M-type 49 and two new types—M-type 55 and M-type—during the outbreak. His work in Trinidad was published in internationally recognised journals.

David returned to London in 1968 and worked at the Central Public Health Laboratory and the cross infection reference laboratory as senior bacteriologist until 1972. He then moved to the Institute of Child Health, University of London, as senior lecturer in bacteriology, while being honorary consultant microbiologist to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Group, London. In 1976 he accepted an offer as medical officer of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) to work as a bacteriologist at the new Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC).

At CAREC, bacteriology was a new entity, so he had to start from the beginning, setting up a new laboratory that became a proficient and efficient unit. David also became head of CAREC’s laboratory division, which included bacteriology, virology, medical entomology, and parasitology. As head of laboratories he made sure that all sections were running smoothly. In 1977 the medical students from the University of the West Indies at the Port of Spain General Hospital came to CAREC to do their clinical medical clerkships, and David was in charge of that programme.

David spent about 12 years in Trinidad, perhaps the longest in any one institution, leaving in 1989 to go to the other end of the world, to Singapore and Hong Kong. He worked at the National University of Singapore from 1989 to 1991 as a teacher fellow. From 1991 to 1995 he was visiting senior lecturer to the Chinese University of Hong Kong. While he was in Singapore, he became an associate consultant to the National University Hospital and in Hong Kong as consultant microbiologist to the Hong Kong Hospital Authority. He returned to the UK in 1995, perhaps to retire, but he was still writing scientific articles and his legacy lives on with the many scientific articles he published in international peer-reviewed journals.

David was married twice. He was separated from his first wife, Marilyn Downton, and while he was in Trinidad on his second stint, he met Seraphina, whom he married in 1984. They had two children: Nicholas, born in Trinidad, and Naomi, born in Hong Kong. He leaves Seraphina, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3919


  • Bacteriologist (b 1930; q London 1958), d 10 March 2014.

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