Robert Cruickshank came of farming stock and was brought up in the small town of Strichen in Buchan, Aberdeenshire; he attended the local school there until he went to the University of Aberdeen where, with a distinguished academic record, he graduated MB ChB (hons) in 1922. As the best graduate of his year he was awarded the Alexander Anderson Travelling Fellowship which gave him the opportunity to work in the Pathology Department in Glasgow, where he came under the formative influence of Sir Robert Muir and Carl Browning, and in the Bacteriology Department in Aberdeen. His time in Aberdeen with John Cruickshank (no relation) had a great influence in determining his future career in bacteriology. After a period as resident medical officer in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, and a fellowship in cancer research, Cruickshank was, in 1928, appointed lecturer in bacteriology in the University of Glasgow and Bacteriologist to the Royal Infirmary. There he made important observations on streptococcal infection in burned patients.
In 1936 Cruickshank was appointed Director of the LCC Group Laboratory at the North Western Fever Hospital in London. There he built up, during the next 10 years and despite a serious illness and the problems of the war, a laboratory with a great reputation for a very high standard of clinical bacteriology, and he developed his interest in epidemiological studies linked with bacteriology. He took a great interest in the developing field of aerobiology and carried out important studies on airborne transfer of streptococci in wards for children with measles.
In 1945 Cruickshank became the first Director of the Central Public Health Laboratory at Colindale, where his vision and leadership laid the foundations on which that Laboratory developed to become a major new centre of medical microbiology. He stayed with the Public Health Laboratory Service for only four years for, in 1949, he was appointed Professor of Bacteriology in the University of London, at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School. It was a difficult time of transition at St Mary’s, from Sir Almroth Wright’s Inoculation Department (later the Wright-Fleming Institute) to a modern university department of microbiology, and it was during his time there that Cruickshank’s reputation as an expert in microbiology and epidemiology, with a great facility for teaching, led to increasing calls on his time for overseas visits; the love of travel he acquired then never left him and he became known and admired all over the world. Nevertheless, while at St. Mary’s he was responsible for extensive studies of respiratory tract infection in children.
In 1958 Cruickshank moved to the Robert Irving Chair of Bacteriology in the University of Edinburgh, where he stimulated the development of an active department and was keenly involved in the revision of the Edinburgh medical curriculum. As throughout his career, he took a great interest in student affairs. He held the Chair until 1966 when he retired to become the first occupant of the newly founded Chair of Social and Preventive Medicine in the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, and in the next two years he built up an important department there which greatly strengthened the links between the UWI and the Ministry of Health in Jamaica. His association with the UWI continued, after he was succeeded in the Chair by Professor K. Standard, by his appointment as Honorary Consultant to the Departments of Microbiology and of Social and Preventive Medicine. During his time, too, he was the UK representative on the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Pakistan-SEATO Cholera Research Laboratory in Dacca, and paid many visits there.
Robert Cruickshank’s achievements as a teacher, adviser, and leader in the field of clinical microbiology and epidemiology were widely recognized: he was admitted to the Fellowship in 1946, he was elected FRSE in 1958 and FRCPE in 1962; he was awarded the CBE in 1966, and the honorary LLD of his own University of Aberdeen in 1968. He was Milroy Lecturer in 1933, Chadwick Lecturer of the Royal Sanitary Institute in 1943, and Frederick Still Lecturer of the British Paediatric Association in 1945. He had friends, admirers, and pupils all over the world.
He married Margaret Petrie in 1929 and had one son and one daughter.
Sir Robert Williams
[Lancet, 1974, 2, 602; Br. med. J., 1974, 3, 582; Royal Society of Edinburgh: Year Book 1975]