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Kay, Humphrey Edward Melville (1923–2009), haematologist and oncologist, was born on 10 October 1923 at 19 Spencer Road, Croydon, Surrey, the son of the Revd Arnold Innes Kay (1888–1945), a Church of England clergyman and missionary (who would later serve as vicar of All Saints, Laleham, Surrey, from 1934 until his death), and his wife, Winifred Julia, née Cox (1882–1949), a qualified doctor. He spent the first four years of his life in India, before returning with his family to Britain. He was educated at the Downs preparatory school in Colwall, Herefordshire (where he was taught English by W. H. Auden), Bryanston School, and, having survived the heaviest bombing raids of the war on Southampton, where he took his preliminary medical examinations, St Thomas's Hospital medical school, where he qualified MB BS in 1945. From 1947 to 1949 he did his national service as a medical officer with the RAF Volunteer Reserve in Lincolnshire and then Aden, which he recalled as ‘a happy, peaceful place, where one learned to avoid amoebic dysentery; to play tennis through the hot season; to ride a camel; and to admire the starry skies with a limited range of classical music on 78s with a wind-up player’ (Daily Telegraph, 5 Dec 2009). On his return he filled a series of junior appointments in pathology at St Thomas's Hospital, from 1950 to 1956. On 9 September 1950 he married April Grace Lavinia Powlett (1927–1990), daughter of Armand Temple Powlett, gentleman farmer. She was later a consultant rheumatologist. They had two daughters and a son.

In 1956 Kay moved to the Royal Marsden Hospital as a haematologist and consultant clinical pathologist, remaining there until his retirement in 1984, latterly as professor of haematology in the University of London. He specialized in the pathology and treatment of leukaemia, conducting pioneering research into the immunological and chromosomal characteristics of leukaemia cells. He also took the lead in planning and fund-raising for an isolation ward at the Royal Marsden for immune-suppressed leukaemia patients. Opened in 1965, this was so successful that eight years later a much larger ward was opened (named after the music hall entertainer Bud Flanagan, who had lost a son to leukaemia and had left a substantial amount in his will to fund research into and treatment of the disease). This was designed also to facilitate bone-marrow transplants. Europe's first successful such operation took place at the Royal Marsden in 1973, and the hospital soon became a world leader in this field.

When Kay joined the Royal Marsden there was no effective treatment for leukaemia, most patients died within weeks of diagnosis, and leukaemia was the second most common cause of death in childhood (after accidents). By the time he retired most children and many young adults with the disease were being cured, thanks in large part to his pioneering efforts. He also played an important role nationally and internationally, as secretary to the Medical Research Council committee on leukaemia from 1968 to 1984 (organizing a series of national trials) and a key figure in organizing conferences bringing together the leading experts in the field from the United States, western Europe, and elsewhere, resulting, inter alia, in the establishment of the first international protocols for the treatment of childhood leukaemia. He was editor of the Journal of Clinical Pathology from 1972 to 1980, and the author of more than a hundred papers on leukaemia and other blood diseases.

Kay was keenly interested in natural history from his childhood, and on his retirement in 1984 he threw his considerable energies into this hobby. He was a member of the council of the Wiltshire Trust for Nature Conservation, subsequently the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, from 1983 to 1996 (initiating its highly successful sponsored walk each May day from Avebury to Stonehenge, and acting as volunteer warden of the Hat Gate reserve on the edge of Savernake Forest), contributed to national debates on such issues as the link between badgers and bovine tuberculosis, and in 2002 published A Survey of Wiltshire Hedgehogs. He was also a talented musician, knowledgeable about opera, ballet, and classical music in general, and a published poet. His collection of Poems Polymorphic (2002) included ‘The Haematologist's Song’, which, set to the tune of Flanders and Swann's ‘The Hippopotamus Song’, had entertained many colleagues at conferences and meetings worldwide. A humanist who was nevertheless interested in the wellsprings of religion, he was described by Bishop John Bickersteth as ‘visionary, cheerful, humble’ (The Times, 9 Dec 2009). A colleague, Ray Powles, described him as ‘tall, thin, sophisticated, full of energy, and a diplomat’ (BMJ, 9 Jan 2010). Slightly old-fashioned, with a penchant for bow ties, and with unruly hair, in looks he resembled most people's stereotype of a mad professor.

Following the death of his first wife, on 26 November 1996 Kay married Sallie Diana Perry, née Charlton (b. 1936), daughter of Rowland Charlton, headmaster, and widow of the painter Roy Perry. He had lived at New Mill Cottage, Pewsey, Wiltshire, since his retirement, and died on 20 October 2009 in his car in Bridewell Street, Marlborough, Wiltshire, of heart failure, following a minor collision with a telegraph pole. He was survived by Sallie, his three children, and two stepchildren.

Alex May


Wiltshire Gazette (22 Oct 2009) · The Guardian (6 Nov 2009) · The Times (24 Nov 2009); (9 Dec 2009) · Dorset Echo (1 Dec 2009) · Daily Telegraph (5 Dec 2009) · The Independent (26 Dec 2009) · BMJ (9 Jan 2010) · Journal of Clinical Pathology, 63/3 (2010), 283 · WW (2009) · b. cert. · m. certs. · d. cert.

Wealth at death  

£559,542: probate, 1 June 2010, CGPLA Eng. & Wales