Lunch with Professor Wallace Peters

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Friday, 27 April 2018

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me as CEO of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene is our incredibly rich history.

History in terms of our collections of journals, correspondence, artefacts but also people and their memories that live on through our illustrious members.

Professor Peters

This is how from, organising an event for long-standing members, Dr Simon Cathcart, RSTMH President and I arrived in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire to meet and have lunch with Professor Wallace Peters (pictured above).

A member for over 65 years

Professor Peters was born 1 April 1924 and is known for his work as an entomologist and parasitologist. He has been a member of the RSTMH since 1950 and in 2004 was awarded the Manson Medal, the Society’s highest honour.

His list of awards and achievements is extensive and includes the Joseph Augustin LePrince Medal for his work in malariology (1994), Germany's Rudolf Leuckart Medal (1980) and Saudi Arabia's King Faisal International Prize for Medicine (1983).

When we visit him at his home, Professor Peters is surrounded by multi-coloured butterfly specimens, framed and hanging on the wall, as well as piles of books on tropical medicine.

Professor Peters' butterflies

Indeed, Professor Peters is known by students and doctors around the world for his series, Atlas of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology. He wrote the series of Atlas books for several years, then passing on editorial responsibility to others, most recently to Professor David Moore at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

Professor Peters is in fine spirits when we meet him. He tells us that he collected the butterflies from his many years living all around the world: Australia, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Nepal. We talk at length about his childhood. He was born in London and evacuated to the north of England during World War II.

He qualified in 1947, after studying medicine in London, later specialising in tropical medicine. Professor Peters’ research in tropical medicine spans nearly 60 years, during which he has authored hundreds of scientific papers and books, many have been published in RSTMH’s journal, Transactions.

World authority in malaria research

He is recognised as a world authority in the field of malaria research. His pioneering work on the chemotherapy and control of malaria, and his encyclopaedic book on malaria treatment, Anti-Malarial Drugs, have guided research on malarial chemotherapy and prevention throughout the world.

Professor Peters speaks fondly of his time spent at Manson House, RSTMH’s old home, saying he spent many an afternoon and evening there.

Later in his career, he recounts writing his autobiography, Four Passions: Conversations with Myself. Much of the book talks about the idea of retirement and old age. A big part of the book is his relationship with his wife, Ruth, whom he clearly adored. Ruth sadly passed away in 2007.

In his career, Professor Peters has also been elected a fellow of the RCP (1978), was dean of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, head of the medical protozoology department at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and president of the British Society for Parasitology.

It was an honour to meet Professor Peters. Just a few hours spent together gives such insight into RSTMH’s history, the huge achievements of our members, as well as inspiration as to what we can achieve in the future.

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