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Sheila Callender

One of the major postwar figures in haematology

Sheila Callender, former consultant physician and clinical reader Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford (b Sidcup 1914; q St Andrews 1938), d 17 August 2004.

Sheila Callender was one of the last of the line of general physician/haematologists who, on both sides of the Atlantic, did so much to establish and develop haematology in the period after the second world war.

During her years in Oxford Sheila made many seminal contributions to the understanding of blood diseases. With Rob Race she was first to identify the Lutheran and Willis blood groups, was among the first accurately to determine the lifespan of red blood cells, and, with the help of her colleagues in Oxford by building one of the first whole-body counters made a number of extremely important observations about iron absorption and iron overload in a wide variety of diseases. She also made important contributions to the management of iron overload and to understanding the pathogenesis of the megaloblastic anaemias. And when Professor Leslie Witts became chairman of the Medical Research Council’s Leukaemia Trials Committee she played a seminal role in helping him to develop some of the early and extremely successful studies of different drug regimes for the treatment of leukaemia.

Sheila was born in 1914 in Sidcup, Kent, the youngest of four children of a Scottish general practitioner and surgeon, and an Irish mother. She graduated at St Andrews University with commendation and a gold medal in 1938 and was awarded the MD at St Andrews in 1944, again with a gold medal, for her work on the anaemia of pregnancy. She was elected FRCP in 1962 and obtained the DSc at the University of Oxford on her published works in 1970.

Apart from junior hospital posts in Dundee Royal Infirmary and a brief period in St Louis with Carl Moore as a Rockefeller Travelling Research Fellow, she spent the whole of her career in Oxford. She joined Professor Leslie Witts as a house physician in the newly formed Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine in 1942, was appointed May reader in medicine in 1947, and from 1954 was first assistant and later clinical reader.

Sheila was, above all, an absolutely first class general physician with an extensive knowledge right across the field of haematology. All her research stemmed from problems that she saw at the bedside and, because of the particular interests of the Nuffield Department, much of her best work was at the interface between haematology and gastroenterology. She was also a fine teacher, much loved by her house staff and students. Although there is no doubt that she could have become a head of any academic department on either side of the Atlantic she disliked administration and medical politics, largely because she felt that they would erode time that would be better spent with her patients, research staff, and students. Her devotion to her patients was a fine example for the many young doctors that she trained during her years at Oxford; in particular she taught them the importance of humility and how to deal with the constant uncertainties of medical care.

In 1955 Sheila married Ivan Monostori, who had come to Oxford as a refugee from Hungary. They established beautiful homes in Oxford and Scotland, where they shared their interests in country life, gardening, fine wine, and, at least to one of their friends, rather terrifying bulldogs.

Sheila Callender was a superb clinician and clinical scientist with a breadth of skills that has now, sadly, largely disappeared from the medical scene. The many generations of doctors and students who worked with her have much to thank her for. [David Weatherall]