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Anthony Barrington (“Barry”) Kay: part of the team that unequivocally established the Th2 T lymphocyte hypothesis for bronchial asthma

BMJ 2021; 372 doi: (Published 26 January 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;372:n229
  1. Rebecca Wallersteiner
  1. London, UK
  1. wallersteiner{at}
Photo credit: Rebecca Sutherland

Anthony Barrington (“Barry”) Kay, whose work transformed the lives of many patients with asthma, has died at the age of 81 from an acute illness, after being treated for metastatic bladder cancer for several years.

Kay was born in Northampton to Tony Chambers, an area manager for Darling Washing Machines, who claimed to be a widower, and Eva Gertrude Pearcey, a dressmaker. In 1944, when only 4, Kay was left at the King’s (The Cathedral) School Boarding House in Peterborough, his mother having discovered her husband was a bigamist. Beautiful and resourceful, she reinvented herself in London. She became a successful fashion designer and married a Jewish businessman, Harry Kay, pretending that she and her son were Jewish.

In his blackly funny, dramatised memoir, Whatever Happened to Barry Chambers?, Kay explored his unusual beginnings and his double life in school and at home, as he swung between being Barry Chambers, a confirmed Anglican, at school, and Barry Kay, a Jewish boy, at home during the school holidays in London. A “loveable rogue,” his stepfather was imprisoned for selling stolen radios.

At 17, Kay successfully applied for medical school in Edinburgh, where he made many friends and qualified in 1963. He trained in respiratory medicine at Edinburgh City Hospital, achieved his doctorate with Robin Coombs at Cambridge, and obtained a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard. In the 1970s, he moved to London to become professor …

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