Robin Bannerman was born in Alton, Hampshire, the son of a Scottish pathologist, Robert George Bannerman,and his wife Charlotte Sinclair Mowat.He was educated at Westminster School and went up to Christchurch, Oxford, as a Westminster Scholar in 1946, obtaining an honours degree in animal physiology. His clinical years were spent at St Thomas’s Hospital where, after qualifying in 1952, he served successively as casualty officer, house physician, senior house physician, demonstrator in clinical pathology and medical registrar.
Bannerman early developed an interest in disorders of the blood and it was very appropriate that in 1957, having been awarded the Radcliffe travelling fellowship at University College, Oxford, he should spend a year in Carl V Moore’s department in St Louis, USA, which had become a major centre of haematological research. His work with Moisés Grinstein on the defect of haem synthesis in thalassaemia provided the basis for his prize winning monograph Thalassaemia, New York, Grune and Stratton, 1961. A second year in the United States was spent with Victor McKusick at Johns Hopkins. His friendship with McKusick was an important factor in his decision to return subsequently to the United States.
Back in England in 1960 he joined the Nuffield Department of Medicine in Oxford, where he collaborated with the writer and others in studies of iron deficiency and iron absorption. We developed a friendship which survived a move by both of us to the USA in 1963. Robin Bannerman was greatly attracted to the excellent department of medicine which Evan Calkins was developing in Buffalo and decided to become one of the mainly young band of physician investigators at the University of Buffalo, where he remained until his death. He established a medical genetics unit at Buffalo General Hospital. In 1975 he became director of the divisions of medical genetics and human genetics in the respective departments of medicine and genetics. He created a first class clinical and teaching programme in clinical genetics. He continued to investigate haem and porphyrin metabolism in the haemoglobinopathies and thalassaemia and contributed significantly to knowledge of globin and iron metabolism. His unit attracted many young investigators who have subsequently distinguished themselves. Though he had known that he had a lethal malady long before his death, Robin continued to work right up to the end.
Robin married Franca Angela Eleonora Vescia in 1953 and they had three daughters, one of whom is now a physician in Montreal. Their homes were happy and welcoming ones from the time when they lived in a cottage in Oxfordshire, which lacked even the rudiments of civilization in its physical resources, to the house in Buffalo memorable to the writer for the night of the great blackout of 1966, when the electric power failed throughout the whole of the State of New York.
Robin Bannerman will be remembered for his gentleness and shyness, and for the determination and firmness of purpose which those qualities concealed. He was a man totally committed to maintaining the highest standards of precision in thinking and expression. On first contact he seemed an unusually serious person but increasing friendship revealed an attractive, pawky sense of humour which, together with his unfailing kindness, endeared him to all who knew him. He sometimes gave the impression that he would have been happier as a farmer, in the steps of his maternal grandfather, but had he so chosen, medicine would have lost a scholar.
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
[Lancet,1985,1,1114; Buffalo News,9 Mar 1985]