It was good to hear the reports of Stephen Hawking’s speech at his 70th birthday celebrations at the weekend. The Independent ran the story under the headline “I owe it all to my father” and noted that
Hawking spoke movingly of the role his father played in picking him up from the devastating diagnosis when he was just beginning his PhD at Cambridge University
His father was Frank Hawking (1905-1986) who spent much of his working life at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) working on parasitology. A quick glance at his thick file in our archives reveals that he was an interesting character. Conversations with one or two people who worked with him confirms that impression. He does seem to have got into one or two scrapes along the way.
Born the son of a farmer, Frank soon showed himself to be a bright child and was sent to the Leys School, in Cambridge. He gained a first class degree at Oxford then took clinical studies at St Bart’s. After finishing his clinical training he was awarded a research fellowship at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine where he worked under Warrington Yorke from 1930-33. Frank then held a travelling fellowship at the Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, spending some time at Columbia University, New York. In early 1934 he wrote to two senior staff at NIMR asking whether he might be accommodated there if he were successful in winning a Beit memorial fellowship. The Institute Director, Sir Henry Dale, replied encouragingly that there might be space available. Unfortunately as it turned out Hawking was not successful in his application for the fellowship. Over the next few years he continued to correspond with Dale about various possible scientific career moves. Dale was a fellow old Leysian and seemed well disposed to assisting Frank in his career.
Hawking spent some years lecturing in pharmacology at the Welsh National School of Medicine at Cardiff and then in 1937 he was awarded a research fellowship of the Medical Research Council to work in east Africa on trypanosomiasis. It seems to have been a flexible fellowship as he made his way to Nigeria too, and he worked on other tropical diseases as the opportunity presented itself. Towards the end of 1939 he was offered a place at NIMR and in early 1940 returned to the UK to take up a temporary position in NIMR’s Division of Chemotherapy. Within a few months he was appointed to the permanent staff at NIMR. When the Institute moved in 1950 from Hampstead to Mill Hill, Hawking became head of the Division, later renamed “Parasitology”, where he stayed until his retirement in 1970. After retirement he continued in research, first in the USA then for three years at the MRC’s Clinical Research Centre at Northwick Park and later at Brunel University.
On his retirement the MRC Annual Report (1970-71) said:
“Dr Hawking’s association with the Council goes back to 1937, when he was awarded an MRC senior travelling fellowship in tropical medicine. He joined the staff of the Institute in 1940 and built up his division into an important centre for the study of tropical infections. He will continue to pursue his interest in malaria and trypanosomiasis, with grant support from the Council, at the Clinical Research Centre.”
His obituary in the BMJ records that
His DM thesis in 1933 was nominally on induced drug resistance in trypanosomes but strayed into immunology, host specificity, and quantitative studies on the uptake of acriflavine by the parasites. This last subject was further developed until in 1938 he was able to estimate the intracellular concentrations of acriflavine in normal and resistant strains; he considered this to be his finest intellectual achievement.
As he joined NIMR just as the war was beginning, he then directed his efforts to the treatment of wounds, and determined the best methods for preventing gas gangrene by topical treatment with sulphonamides. He also worked on malaria and later on the tropical disease filariasis and the physiology of circadian rhythms.
As well as the BMJ obit, see his entry in Munk’s Roll, VIII, pp. 215-6, for further information.
There does not seem to be a biography of Frank Hawking, but I think it would be an interesting read.