Paul Dudley White was clinical professor of medicine at the University of Harvard, USA, and for nearly half a century was universally recognized as the outstanding cardiologist of his day. His clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital was the Mecca of cardiologists, young and old, from all five continents. His output and his energy were tremendous even by United States standards.
Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, the son of a family doctor, Herbert Warran White - who lived even longer than his son - and his wife Elizabeth Abby, daughter of Barzillai Dudley, an engineer, he was educated at Roxbury Latin School and the University of Harvard where he graduated in 1908, proceeding MD in 1911. From then until 1913, with a Sheldon travelling scholarship, he studied in University College Hospital Medical School, London, where he worked with Sir Thomas Lewis and Sir James Mackenzie. From 1914-1916 he served with the British Expeditionary Force in France, and from 1917-1919 with the American Expeditionary Force, ending his wartime career with the American Red Cross in Greece.
In 1919 he returned to Massachusetts General Hospital and continued his practice in cardiology, travelling widely whenever this was possible. He married Ina Helen, daughter of Winfield Scott Reid, in 1924. They had two children, Penelope and Alexander.
In 1931 he published Heart Diseases, which was revised and reissued during the following 20 years, gaining worldwide acceptance. In 1948 he was elected president of the International Society of Cardiology, and was acclaimed among Western cardiologists when he presided over the first World Congress of Cardiology in 1954. He visited countries all over the world, helping to found institutes of cardiology, and to lecture or foster developments in very widespread activities. In 1971, as the guest of the Chinese Medical Association, he paid a 12-day visit to China with his fellow cardiologist, Grey Dimond.
He was physician to President Eisenhower and looked after him when he had his heart attack in 1955. His communiques on the President’s progress, and his interviews with the press, were small masterpieces, demonstrating his unique gift for public relations. There is no doubt that it was the confidence they aroused in the public that convinced the nation that, despite his heart attack, the President was fit enough to continue in office.
Paul White was always interested in health education and in his later years it became a major concern. He was a keen advocate of physical exercise and it is said that on one occasion he walked seven miles from the headquarters of the American Heart Association at the comer of 23rd Street and Madison Avenue to La Guardia airport. His slender frame and light weight testified to his cycling exercise. He practised the important principles of ‘Walk more, eat less, sleep more’. Warning his fellow Americans of the dangers of ‘taking a holiday’ from physical exercise between the ages of 18 and 30, he said that those who do ‘Pay for it for the rest of their lives’. There is also the amusing anecdote of an importunate reporter who asked for an interview, having caught White as he came out of an official dinner at this hotel. ‘Fine’ said White ‘just come along with me to my room’. His room was on the 12th floor, and by the time the reporter had kept pace with Paul White’s energetic climb he was in no fit state to carry on with the interview.
Honours were showered on Paul White from all parts of the world, including medals, government and academic, honorary university degrees, and honorary membership of medical societies, such as the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Medicine. From his own country he received the award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He wrote and travelled ceaselessly, but this was incidental, although over 710 papers are recorded. Above all, he was a brilliant clinician and he attracted postgraduates from all over the world to his Boston department.
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
[Brit.med.J., 1973, 4, 362; Times, 1 Nov 1973]