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Butterfield, William John Hughes, 1920-2000 (leading British medical researcher, clinician and administrator)



(William) John (Hughes) Butterfield was born on 28 March 1920 at Stechford in the West Midlands. He was educated at Solihull School, Warwickshire, Exeter College Oxford and John Hopkins University, Baltimore (MD 1944, conferred 1951). After returning to Britain in 1944 he did his junior appointments in pathology, medicine and surgery, was on the staff of the Medical Research Council from 1946 at the Clinical Research Unit at Guy's Hospital under R.T. Grant, and did his national service, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, 1947-1949. Butterfield worked on burns, specifically on attempts to estimate the effects of nuclear explosions, continuing his work as a research fellow at the Virginia Medical College, Richmond, 1950-1952. In 1952 and 1956 he witnessed the British nuclear tests in the Monte Bello islands off the north-west coast of Australia. While working on burns, unexpected observations of the effect of the poison gas antidote British anti-lewisite on blood glucose levels initiated his lifelong interest in diabetes. Butterfield returned to mainstream medical research at the Clinical Research Unit at Guy's Hospital, London. In 1958 he was appointed professor in the newly established Department of Experimental Medicine at Guy's. For the next twelve years he led a highly successful diabetes research team. He pioneered automated chemistry to measure blood sugar and in 1962 with his Guy's team Butterfield conducted a large-scale epidemiological study in Bedford that revealed many people with undiagnosed diabetes, decisively influenced the prevailing views of diabetes and led to the internationally-accepted diagnostic standards for the disease. Alongside his research programme, he maintained a first-class clinical diabetes unit, general medical service and bedside clinical teaching programme. During his time at Guy's Butterfield developed interests in community medicine and medical planning (general practice), for example in respect of the creation of the Thamesmead new town. In 1971 he was appointed Voice-Chancellor of Nottingham University, a difficult time because of widespread student unrest. Nottingham already had a medical school for pre-clinical students, and Butterfield set out during his Vice-Chancellorship to create a clinical school for fourth and fifth year students. He took on an increasing number of public responsibilities including the chairmanship of the Council for the Education and Training of Health Visitors, 1971-1976, and chairmanship of the East Midlands Economic Council, 1974-1976. Butterfield maintained his contacts with Guy's as Consultant Professor Emeritus and from 1974 as a member of the Council of Governors (later Chairman of the Council of Governors (later Chairman of the Council of Governors of the United Medical Schools of Guy's and St Thomas's). During Butterfield's period at Nottingham he was much involved with planning the extended clinical school at Cambridge and he moved to Cambridge to lead the School of Clinical Medicine as Regius Professor of Physic, 1976-1987. Here he presided over an impressive range of new developments and appointments, despite a less favourable financial situation than originally envisaged, and continued his clinical and research interests. He was master of Downing College 1978-1987, and served the wider university community as Vice-Chancellor, 1983-1985. As a student at Oxford, 1940-1942, he was a triple blue, playing against Cambridge at rugby, hockey and cricket – captaining the Dark Blues in the latter two sports. In Cambridge he was an active supporter of student sport as patron, chairman and president of sports clubs, and in offering his advice and experience to appeals for better facilities. He also supported the development of sports medicine in Cambridge in the form of a clinic to treat sports injuries at Addenbrooke's Hospital. His public responsibilities continued to grow in number including Chairmanship of the Medicines Commission, 1976-1982, membership of the Medical Research Council, 1976-1980, and Chairmanship of the Health Promotion Research Trust, 1983-1993, a controversial appointment because of its tobacco industry funding. Indeed, throughout his career and well past formal retirement age, Butterfield gave an enormous variety of service to professional bodies, medical and educational charities, the pharmaceutical industry, government advisory boards and the scientific advisory committees of research institutes, often as a highly regarded chairman. His last major project was raising money to establish the College of Teachers, in an attempt to improve the public standing of the profession. Butterfield's distinguished career was recognised by many academic, professional and public honours including visiting professorships, invitations to deliver named lectures and honorary degrees. He was awarded an OBE in 1953 and knighted in 1978. In 1988 Butterfield was made a life peer and he took an active role in the House of Lords in such areas of policy as higher education, medical research and the National Health Service. Butterfield married Ann Sanders in 1946 but she died while giving birth to their son. In 1950 he married Isabel-Ann Foster Kennedy, the daughter of an eminent New York neurologist, and they had two sons and a daughter. He died on 26 July 2000.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:


William Butterfield Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS William Butterfield
Scope and Contents Comprised of biographical material (including a large selection of diaries), material related to Butterfield's work at Guy's Hospital London, extensive documentation of Butterfield's period working at Cambridge University, a record of Butterfield's lectures and visits, and his work for conferences, material related to Butterfield's publications, documentation of Butterfield's substantial involvement in societies and organiations, material related to Butterfield's engagement with the House of...
Dates: 1945-2000
Conditions Governing Access: Some items are restricted at the discretion of the Keeper of Manuscripts.