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IN a further tribute to Charles Routledge Coid (VR, May 23, 2015, vol 176, p 549), Colin Green writes: From humble beginnings, Charles Coid became one of the most distinguished members of the veterinary profession. He was born in a small cottage in Whithorn in south-west Scotland on April 15, 1926, the son of the town butcher and related to local farm workers. He was educated at the Douglas Ewart High School, Newton Stewart, where his academic potential, recognised by one of his school teachers, changed his ambition from an apprenticeship and life in the family business and encouraged him to complete his secondary education and train as a veterinarian.
In 1944, he joined up in the Royal Navy and trained as a Fleet Air Arm navigator. The end of the Second World War in 1945 saved him from a spell in the Far East. He entered the Royal Dick Veterinary School and graduated after five years in 1950. There he met Marjory, destined to be his wife for 56 years. He gained his first job as a house surgeon at the Royal Dick. In 1952 he joined the Agriculture Research Council and they moved to Compton, Berkshire, where they spent four happy years while Charles completed his PhD.
In 1956, he joined the Medical Research Council (MRC) and worked in Hampstead testing polio vaccines until 1960. Another four years was spent in quality assurance on polio vaccines based in the GlaxoSmithKline unit at Greenford, after which he moved to the Royal College of Surgeons of England and collaborated with his close friend Bert Cohen in researching different aspects of dental health until 1968. It was then that the MRC realised that Charles had just the qualities needed to help establish its long planned flagship Clinical Research Centre (CRC) on the Northwick Park Hospital campus, and he was recruited in 1968 to organise from scratch an experimental facility at Northwick Park. As a temporary arrangement, while awaiting the building of the CRC, he was accommodated in the MRC National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill, where he spent the next two years recruiting a team of technicians and scientific staff, as well as planning the equipment and furniture needed in a new facility aspiring to the highest international standards. In 1970, he moved over to the CRC campus with most of the team and spent the next 20 years as director of the Division of Comparative Medicine.
It was in late 1968 that he interviewed me in Mill Hill for a post as a resident veterinarian in his division and I had to overcome his realistic doubts about my credentials and suitability for the job, having left Devon after five years in large animal agricultural practice. What he wanted was a young person to develop microsurgical techniques and assist researchers in human organ and tissue preservation and transplantation. A PhD was on offer and this would normally be completed by an aspiring scientist in their mid-twenties. He pointed out in his kind way that not only was I more than a decade too old but would find it impossible to live with a family near London on the salary on offer. I begged him to give me a chance. He relented. I make no bones about it: I owe all my enjoyable career in medical research and teaching to him and all the loyal support he gave me ever since. I know that many others have shared that same experience of his generosity of spirit.
In our working relationship, the qualities that most impressed me were his honesty, integrity, fairness and real care for all his staff. He would not settle for second best. He protected any animals in research with fierce determination. I well remember a powerful American surgeon with a cavalier approach to the animals under study giving up after only 12 months and returning to the USA, complaining bitterly that working with Charles was like working alongside an antivivisection activist. Charles had the courage to stand up to his bullying. Furthermore, he was willing to engage with animal rights activists and argue the case for properly supervised studies, provided that the animals were treated with dignity and respect and only for really essential research. The Division of Comparative Medicine was used both by the Home Office and by animal rights organisations as a model and a source of information on correct procedures especially regarding housing, handling, analgesia and anaesthesia. Not once in 20 years was his division criticised in any way for improper use of animals in his care. He was widely respected for his integrity.
His deep interest in comparative medicine and pathology was not restricted to his work in the UK. He worked in India and South Africa as an invited expert on research methodology and then encouraged his junior staff to travel overseas and promote their work in the international arena. Not only did he encourage his scientific staff to build strong research networks globally but to become medical educationists and trainers too. He believed passionately in the mission of the CRC to bring academic medical clinicians together with basic scientists and shake the kaleidoscope until novel ideas emerged and crystallised. If other senior staff in the CRC had tried as hard as he did to achieve this aim, the CRC would have been a resounding success. He was very disappointed that the MRC decided to close it in 1993, some years after he retired.
The benign and inspirational influence that Charles Coid had on all who knew him is priceless. Perhaps most important were his caring and humanitarian attitudes, which have rubbed off on so many – not least on his own family. After he retired he actively supported medical training in the developing world as well as a humanitarian charity run by his family in Ghana. As monument to his vision, and built on the ashes of the CRC, he welcomed the establishment of the Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research (NPIMR) which opened in 1994. Again, as an extension of his beliefs and vision, he was delighted to be told just before he died that NPIMR is being funded to become a national specialist unit for training surgeons in novel and pioneering techniques.
In sum, Charles Coid was a good man, a great credit to his profession and a kind and wonderful friend to all of us who will now miss him. He was always there for us.