Gerry Shaper was a professor of clinical epidemiology and head of the department of clinical epidemiology and general practice at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London. He was born in Cape Town, South Africa, the son of Jacob (‘Jack’) Shaper, a company director, and Molly Shaper née Harris. The day after his graduation from the University of Cape Town in 1951, knowing he could not work in Apartheid South Africa, he left (only to return on a visit in 1994).
His first house officer posts were in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia and during that year, 1952, he married Lorna Clarke – they had met at the University of Cape Town, where she was a student at the Michaelis Art School. The next move was to Liverpool as a senior house officer at Sefton General Hospital and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, where he obtained a diploma in tropical medicine with the Milne medal. He spent a further year as a registrar at Clatterbridge General in the Wirral, working towards his membership of the Royal College of Physicians, which he passed joyfully at his first attempt!
Gerry then moved to London to take up a registrar appointment at the Hammersmith Hospital and Postgraduate Medical School, where he worked under John McMichael in the cardiology department from 1955 to 1956.
His commitment to Africa saw him return in 1957, this time to East Africa, as a reader at Makerere University and Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda. The medical school there was just being established, so they were very exciting and rewarding times for all those involved. It was in Uganda that Gerry’s interest in epidemiology was kindled and grew with the unique opportunity to work amongst the three resident communities – Asian, European and African (both urban and nomadic). During this time, the World Health Organization created and funded a personal chair for him in cardiovascular disease. After 13 years of living, working and travelling in beautiful Uganda, they returned to England, leaving behind a modern and firmly established medical school. The family now included their nine-year-old son, Nicholas.
On his return to London, Gerry’s first appointment was with the Medical Research Council in the social medicine unit at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1970 to 1975) and then as an honorary consultant physician at University College Hospital (from 1975 to 1987).
In 1975, he was appointed as a professor of clinical epidemiology and established the department of clinical epidemiology and general practice at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London. In addition to teaching medical students and supervising PhD students, a large and comprehensive cardiovascular research project was initiated – the British Regional Heart Study (BRHS), which is still working very successfully.
The subsequent years until his retirement in 1992 saw him attending and participating in meetings and committees both in the UK and worldwide, being elected as a member of the Commonwealth Caribbean Medical Research Council (from 1986 to 1998). He was a valued chairman and member of several national and international committees. This involved him being sent to advise the medical establishments of Pakistan and China. On retirement as emeritus professor, he continued to write and publish medical papers collaboratively arising from the work of the BRHS.
But there was time for Gerry to indulge in his love of the theatre and he considered his ‘club’ to be the National Theatre, South Bank, London. His other abiding interest was books, as his very extensive and varied library attested to. No second hand or antiquarian bookshop could be passed without a visit, and often an addition (or two) to the bookshelves.
After some years of retirement, Gerry and Lorna moved from London to West Yorkshire in order to be nearer to Nick (now a consultant vascular surgeon) and their grandchildren. He settled into a tranquil lifestyle in a beautiful part of the country, and enjoyed many a relaxing game of golf, having taken up the game late in life.
During his period of work at the Royal Free Hospital he encouraged and trained many young men and women for their future careers as epidemiologists and their tributes to him have been heart-warming: ‘I learnt from him the overriding importance of getting things right (wherever that led), about attention to detail and many other things. He relished controversy and scientific debate. His intellect was formidable and he always applied it to the most important questions, bringing both enthusiasm and tremendous scientific integrity to bear. He was a warm and generous mentor.’ ‘Gerry was a dear friend and mentor and has had an enormous influence on my life. He was a kind and good man who was respected and loved.’
Gerry was survived by his widow Lorna, their son Nicholas and three grandchildren, Alex, Mark and Rachel.