In Memoriam: Professor Wallace Peters (1924-2018)

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Thursday, 3 January 2019

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of our former President and Manson Medallist, Professor Wallace Peters, who died in late December 2018, aged 94.

Wallace Peters (affectionately known as “Pete”) was born in 1924 and brought up in North London. He studied Medicine at St Bartholomew’s, graduating in 1947. He was a student during the war in Cambridge, where he first encountered malaria, describing it as “love at first sight”.

After he graduated, Professor Peters joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, which provided him with his first exposure to the tropics, when he was posted in Accra. It was during this time that he first joined the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1950.


Professor Peters, pictured in 2018

His experience in West Africa enabled his hobby as an entomologist (he was widely recognised as an authority on Lepidoptera) to blossom, which also made him well-suited to a post with WHO in Liberia, as entomologist to the malaria programme.

He then moved to a WHO post in Papua New Guinea in 1955. After this, he joined the Swiss Pharmaceutical Company Ciba-Geigy in 1961, where his interest in malaria chemotherapy was nurtured.  

In 1966 he was appointed Professor of Parasitology at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM). He was a pioneer in malaria chemotherapy at a time when significant concerns about the emergence of chloroquine resistance, particularly during the period of the Vietnam War, were at the fore. His book on anti-malarial drugs remains a classic, as he was the first to recognise the need for combination therapy.

His interest into other parasitic diseases, led him to focus on leishmaniasis. He initiated work on the disease at LSTM during the 1970s, becoming the Dean in 1975.

Professor Peters developed many strong and lasting collaborations, exemplified by the classic studies on orang-utan malaria in Borneo with Professor Cyril Garnham and Bob Killick-Kendrick.

In 1979, he moved to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) to become Professor of Protozoology, maintaining his malaria chemotherapy and leishmaniasis interests particularly fruitful being his studies in Saudi Arabia. He worked at LSHTM until 1989, becoming Head of the Department of Medical Protozoology.

Professor Peters became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1978 and donated a substantial part of his archive to them in 2017.

Wallace Peters was President of both the British Society for Parasitology (1974-1976) and the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (1987-1989).

During his time as RSTMH President, many interesting events took place, including the establishment of the Robert Cochrane Fund for Leprosy with the closure of Leprosy Study Centre, Wimpole Street and events on issues we face today, including a meeting on "antibiotic resistance in the tropics".

The Society was in good health while he was President, financial surpluses were being made and there were new branches being established across the world. There was the same interest in early career researchers, notably a medical student elective prize and an undergraduate project prize.

As well as serving as our President, In 2004, he was awarded the RSTMH Sir Patrick Manson Medal, the Society’s most prestigious award.

Professor Wallace Peters authored over 600 scientific papers and books, most notably the colour "Atlas of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology", the first editions of which were co-authored with his friend and colleague, the late Professor Herbert Gilles.

He then used the same format to publish “Arthropods in Clinical Medicine”. His text on "Anti-Malarial Drugs", guided research on malarial chemotherapy and prevention for many years and represents a high level of meticulous scholarship.

He also edited a two-volume work on leishmania parasites with Bob Killick Kendrick, drawing together the best expertise of the time.

After his retirement and the death of his beloved wife Ruth, he summarised his life in a book entitled “Four Passions – Conversations With Myself”, which serves as a fascinating insight into his life, relationships and extensive travels.

He was always a supporter and mentor of the younger generation, always on hand to give advice and support and deeply proud of the success of his many students. His work was recognised in an extensive list of awards, including Germany's Rudolf Leuckart Medal (1980), Saudi Arabia's King Faisal International Prize for Medicine (1983) and the Joseph Augustin LePrince Medal for his work in malariology (1994). He leaves a legacy of scientific achievement rarely matched.

Tamar Ghosh, RSTMH CEO, said of Professor Peters:

“Last year I had the privilege to visit Professor Peters three times at his house. We met because he couldn’t attend a dinner we were hosting for long-serving members.

“He wasn’t using emails due to a technical issue and we had been posting out the newsletter to him, so he could stay in touch with what was happening at the Society. On my trips to see him we would talk about recent activities and he would always help with advice I needed.

“Wallace and I talked at length about his collection of butterflies and other insects, which he had up with pride in his house. He remembered where each one came from and recounted many funny stories about them. They were simply stunning.

“We talked about his work in various countries and his thoughts for the future of tropical medicine. On my last visit in November 2018 we talked about the RSTMH Annual Meeting we’d just held, and he mentioned the importance of us looking at the troublesome intersections of mental health, disability, conflict and others.

“I also asked him about the anatomy of a mosquito as we were needing to re-create an old logo for some work. He was always so keen to help and provide advice, in a kind and thoughtful way. It was easy to imagine how we must have nurtured the careers of his less senior colleagues when he was working.

“On that last visit, we shared shortbread biscuits and admired the beautiful gardens from his front room window. He talked about his beloved wife Ruth and his sister who passed away some years ago. He clearly adored them and highly respected the work they had done; his sister having worked for some years at the WHO.

“I’ll never forget my time spent with Professor Peters, he was knowledgeable and kind, interesting and quick-witted. A true gentleman and a real genius in my mind.

“The Society has lost a great friend and supporter and he will be very missed.”

The funeral service for Professor Peters will take place on Monday 14 January from 12:15 to 13:45 in the Milton Chapel of the Chilterns Crematorium, Whielden Lane, HP7 0ND.