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William Harford Rutherford

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 17 April 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:897
  1. John Rutherford,
  2. Jonathan Marrow

William Rutherford, whose death is announced, worked as a medical missionary for many years in India. He returned to work in accident and emergency medicine in Belfast. He was personally involved in the care of many of the victims of the Troubles in that city and also worked at a personal level for better relations between communities. He made a major contribution to the development of accident and emergency medicine throughout the United Kingdom, and internationally. He took a lead in pressing the UK government to introduce legislation to make the wearing of seat belts compulsory, and his study of rates of injury before and after the change in the law provided strong evidence in support of the measure.

William Rutherford, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born in Warrenpoint, County Down, at the foot of the Mourne mountains, and brought up around the time of the partition of Ireland. At the age of 6 he moved with his family to Dun Laoghaire, on the coast near Dublin, but William went to boarding school at Campbell College in Belfast. His father thought learning some Greek would be useful if he chose to become a minister, but William disliked the teacher who taught Greek, and asked to learn physics and chemistry instead. When asked why he wished to change he made the excuse it was because he wanted to do medicine.

He did go on to study medicine at Trinity College, Dublin (TCD), starting in 1939. Like many young men at this time, he had some heart-searching about the rightness of continuing studies in wartime but he was persuaded to press on. William’s older sister studied medicine in Dublin at the same time. They had to cope with their father’s death from cancer while they were students, with changes in …

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