Daniel Fowler Cappell, professor of pathology in the University of St Andrews and pathologist to the Royal Infirmary and other hospitals in the Dundee region 1931 — 1945; professor of pathology in the University of Glasgow and pathologist to The Western Infirmary 1945 -1967, was born in Glasgow, the second son of Robert Cappell, pharmaceutical chemist, and Annabella, daughter of Daniel Fowler, haulage contractor, Glasgow.
From Glasgow Academy, as dux of the Vlth class, he followed his youngest uncle to Glasgow University in 1916, by which time his brother and uncle were in France; the latter died on active service as a chaplain. His performance in the anatomy class was such that the professor (TH Bryce) prevented his enrolling as a surgeon probationer and retained him as a part-time teacher. During this period he was asked to map out the neurovascular hila of the limb muscles. This was incorporated in Quain’s Anatomy, gained the Struther’s gold medal and prize (usually won as the result of postgraduate research), and its utility in relation to wounds (World War II) was recognized in Professor Brash’s book on the Neurovascular hila. He also did locum house officer jobs, including five months with Sir William Macewen, obtained the medal in pathology, and passed his finals with honours in 1921.
Cappell’s potential had been noted by CH Browning, who had returned to Glasgow to occupy the chair of bacteriology, and he saw to it that Cappell got the McCunn Scholarship in pathology and encouraged him to study Goldmann on intra-vital staining and learn German thereby. This work was continued when, in 1923, he became assistant to Robert Muir, along with JS Young (later professor at Belfast and then Aberdeen), the one lecturer being JWS Blacklock (later professor at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and then at St Bartholomew’s, London). A notable feature of his busy life at this time was his steady acquisition of experience of the appearances of disease as seen by the naked eye and through the microscope; from this mental thesaurus he could years later retrieve with phenomenal certainty.
Many pathologists thought that Cappell at the microscope was the most accurate diagnostician in Britain, and his opinion was widely sought, the only cost involved being the loss of time for his own research. The ‘surgicals’ were always a prime obligation, and here Cappell’s passion for quality led to a cooperation with the technicians, providing harvests to this day. The outward mark of this was the honorary fellowship of the Institute of Medical Laboratory Technology (1950), and in 1956 the award of the Sims Woodhead medal for his conspicuous service to medical laboratory technology.
He was delighted when DS Fraser, the boy he started to train in Dundee in 1931, was capped in 1975 by HM The Queen Mother, as Chancellor of the University of Dundee, with the honorary degree of master of medical science. Cappell stressed on his junior colleagues the duty and value of cooperation with technicians, even to the extent of knowing the technical problems. Of these colleagues seventeen have become professors, fourteen in pathology, two in medicine and one in surgery.
As teacher, Cappell was at his best with small groups, and in his early years at Dundee he enjoyed the contact with the students. The class of 1935 — 1936 had only 40 students; of these, 34 became consultants in one field or another. His skill in all aspects of communication increased with his knowledge, and Cappell was therefore Sir Robert Muir’s natural choice for the editorship of his Textbook of Pathology. From Cappell’s hand came the 6th, 7th and 8th editions, and then jointly with his successor, JR Anderson, the 9th edition in 1971.
His research on intra-vital staining was published in papers that occupied most of the July 1928 issue of the J. Path, and Bact., and formed the basis of an MD thesis, awarded honours and the Bellahouston gold medal. This work, along with that of JW McNee (later Sir John), was a further illumination from Muir’s juniors of the emerging concept of the reticulo-endothelial system of Muir’s friend, Aschoff. Later in Dundee, with his assistant Sheila Callender, he identified the mechanism of the so-called pernicious anaemia of pregnancy. Then, before the outbreak of war, he had established a blood transfusion service in the Dundee region, the model for the rest of the country, and was ready to meet the problems of the Rhesus factor, becoming pre-eminent in the elucidation of the Rh-antigens. Characteristically, as soon as he saw the practical possibilities of this new knowledge, he turned his endeavours in that direction, and played a major part in communicating the necessary information to the medical and nursing professions.
Recalled to the Glasgow chair in 1945, on the death of J Shaw Dunn, he planned a regional scheme of pathological services, as a close and friendly partnership of the University laboratories with the others. He joined the Association of Clinical Pathologists, later to be president and chairman of council, and helped to disperse the suspicion with which academic pathologists were regarded by other pathologists, especially in England.
As a peace-maker his precise objectivity made him valuable and valued, and along with Cuthbert Dukes and Geoffrey Hadfleld, he helped to engender the unexpected amity that attended the formation of the College of Pathologists. In the College, as vice-president and chairman of the examining board, he set the standards of examination to be a realistic measure of knowledge and of diagnostic accuracy.
Following Sir James Paget’s dictum, ‘never to refuse duties or offices which come in the plain course of events’, he accepted such obligations if they concerned education or the study of disease. His combination of wisdom and perception of the way forward, combining the Argus and Briareus of Bacon’s essay, resulted in a massive demand for his services, even after retirement, as an adviser, examiner or as a committee member. He seemed tireless when on duty-bound, possibly because he was objective enough to know his ambition for excellence in study, and especially the study of disease, had to be a long-term plan. His objectivity occasionally suffered some diminution when he realized a colleague’s planning was for selfadvancement.
Homo antiqua virtute ac fide, he pursued excellence in his work, in his planning and in his human relationships, creating notable loyalty among those who shared his high intent and dedication to the morality of accuracy. It could well be said of him as Carlyle wrote of Lord Jeffrey: ‘...a man, intrinsically of veracity; was in earnest too, though not "dreadfully in earnest"...’. Indeed, one never knew when a flash of gratuitous cheerfulness would break in. In close alliance with his friend JH Dible he helped to create, from the start in 1950, the warm and valuable relationship binding Dutch pathologists with the British.
He married in 1927 Audrey, daughter of Charles Alfred Griffin, manufacturer’s agent in Glasgow, and although they had no children the door was always open at their hospitable home. Her life-long interest in social work was mirrored in the cheerful catalytic influence she provided in the Cappell’s Blood Transfusion Service, still remembered with joy and pride in the Dundee region. They were both skilled anglers and shared this, as they did their special claret, with juniors as well as coevals. ‘Without her he might have flown as high, but he could not have stayed so long on the wing.’ He died, after a few hours illness, in Stracathro Hospital, near Edzell in Angus, to which they had retired in 1967.
† The list of honorary degrees is too lengthy to include in entirety.
[Brit.med.J., 1976, 1, 528; Lancet, 1976, 1, 496; J.Path., 1977, 122, 175-183]