Appreciation For Peter Scheuer By Dr Jim Mclaughlin
Professor Peter J Scheuer
15 November 1928 - 1 March 2006
I first heard of Peter Scheuer in 1969 when, in response to my repeated questions about liver pathology, I was handed a slim volume with the comment “This may help you”. It did, the book was the first edition of “Liver Biopsy Interpretation”. Later, when considering applying for a post at the Royal Free and seeking advice from a senior colleague I was told “Peter Scheuer works in that department” and then was told much more about Peter as a musician. It was the book that had impressed me and made me feel that it would be good to work in the author’s department.
Peter was from a Viennese family but was born in Hamburg in 1928 where his father was working at the time. The family remained in Hamburg until 1937 when the growing power of the Nazis forced them to return to Vienna and, in 1938, to come to England. In England Peter was educated at Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire where he developed an interest in biology and rose to the rank of sergeant in the school cadet force. After leaving school he looked for temporary employment while considering the possibilities for further education and fulfilling his obligation for National Service. In 1947 Dr John Keall offered him a job as a laboratory technician in the pathology laboratories of Bromley Hospital where he first became interested in histology. Dr Keall encouraged Peter to study medicine and in1949 he started his medical education at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine as one of 12 male students amongst some 80 women. On qualification Peter did his first house job at the Royal Free and then took up a rotating internship in St Johns, Newfoundland where his parents had emigrated in 1953. On his return to England he reported to the army for National Service and spent the next two years with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Singapore becoming increasingly interested in laboratory medicine. He returned to England as Captain Scheuer in 1957 and became a Senior House Officer in the Department of Pathology at the Royal Free. Professor Hill, a histopathologist, was in charge of all pathology and, in due course encouraged Peter to become involved in research, suggesting either heart or liver disease as suitable subjects. Peter chose the liver, and soon started working on the laboratory aspects of veno-occlusive disease as a subject for an MD thesis. The study of liver disease proved to be a happy choice when, in October 1959, Sheila Sherlock was appointed to the first chair of medicine at the Royal Free at the same time as Peter was appointed lecturer in morbid anatomy. Peter obtained his MD in1961 and, in 1962, by now married to Louise, went to the New York for a year to learn more about liver disease at the Mount Sinai Hospital with Dr Hans Popper, himself a refugee from Vienna. Again it was a happy choice and the two families became lifelong friends. On his return Peter continued to work closely with the medical unit led by Professor Sherlock, establishing the weekly clinico-pathological meetings which continue to this day. Appointed senior lecturer in 1964 and honorary consultant to the Royal Free hospital in 1965 Peter made the department into a world centre for liver pathology.
Peter was a great teacher. His lectures will be known to many here today as models of clarity making his subject appear disarmingly simple. He took a major role in the organization of the undergraduate course and was a force in introducing the small group teaching which proved so successful. Kenneth Hill’s interest in medical education had involved the preparation of a system of tape/slide records of lectures whereby students could study a subject in their own time with simple equipment. Peter continued to develop this and later adapted the technique to the computer age producing PowerPoint presentations on disc.
The histopathology department was one of the friendliest and most supportive departments that most of us ever knew. Peter was the youngest of the senior staff and was regarded as an ally by the juniors. At that time most of the junior staff occupied a room next to Professor Hill whose main interest by now was promoting medical education in developing countries, and whose main contact with us was to encourage us to take up posts in these countries. Many of us resisted this idea. Even with the windows shut we usually heard everything he said, and, when I told Peter of our concern that the Head of Department could in turn hear what we were saying, he simply pointed out that that could be an advantage.
Peter was supportive in many ways. He involved us and made us feel we mattered. If he was going to be away he would ask us to present the histological material at the liver biopsy meetings and show us how best to organise this material. Seeing him point at a dimly lit image on the screen cast by the then available microprojectors and say with confidence “That’s a plasma cell” was a memorable moment. I felt privileged when asked to read and comment on the draft of the second edition of “Liver Biopsy Interpretation” and he even made me feel my opinion mattered. He was always happy to share his knowledge and over a wide range of subjects. We could discuss opera, get an opinion on the best value in stereo headphones or share recipes. We were given his own father’s advice on purchasing which was always to buy the most expensive version of an item that you could afford, as in general it would serve you better and give more pleasure in its use than the cheaper options. In all he did he displayed a light touch and brought us closer to his own liberal and cultured European tradition.
Outside pathology the school benefited greatly from Peter’s interest in people and music. It was through music that he met his wife, Louise, then a postgraduate student in the Department of Anatomy. Later he did much to promote the interests of an active school Music Society. He took a full part in school administration, being sub-dean for admissions between 1978 and 1982 and it is an indication of his popularity with students that he was latterly President of the Royal Free Old Students Association, facilitating its transformation to the Royal Free Association following the merger of the medical school with the University College School.
At the time of the move to Hampstead in 1974 Peter was awarded a personal chair in pathology and, on the retirement of Professor Scott in 1983, became Head of Department. He was the first male graduate from the Royal Free to be appointed a consultant at the Hospital and the first to hold a Chair. Both the health service and medical education were changing but the department remained the same happy and supportive place that it had always been and one where training posts were eagerly sought. Peter steered us through many organisational and administrative complexities with his usual skill and following his retirement in 1994 maintained contact with the department and above all with his subject. His opinion continued to be sought and his work recognised. In 2005 he was awarded the Lucie Bolte medal by the German Association for the Studies of the Liver and invited to deliver the “State of the Art Lecture” at the meeting of American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in San Francisco. It was a further satisfaction to him, and an impressive tribute to his continuing work in promoting his subject, to see the 7th edition of his book published in the same year. In November he was made a full Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians at a private ceremony and it gave him great pleasure to be able to present the College with a copy of Liver Biopsy Interpretation.
My abiding memory is of a great friend and a great pathologist who was never too busy to give help and advice and what he gave will always remain with us.
J E McLaughlin
8 March 2006
Added on: 21st March 2006
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The British Liver Trust is Britain\'s only national liver disease charity for adults, existing to improve the lives of people suffering from liver disease.