William Greenfield was born at Salisbury and studied for his profession at University College, London. After qualifying in 1872, he was made registrar, and two years later demonstrator of morbid anatomy and pathology, at St. Thomas’s Hospital. He was elected assistant physician and given charge of the throat department in 1877. He also obtained appointments at the Royal Infirmary for Women and Children and the Royal Hospital for Diseases of the Chest. In 1878, he succeeded Burdon Sanderson as professor of pathology at the Brown Institution and began important experimental work on anthrax, which was published in 1880.
In 1881 Greenfield left London to become professor of pathology and clinical medicine at Edinburgh University. Here, almost at once, he lifted the study of pathology from a minor position to one of first-class importance. During his tenure of the chair, he did much to raise the prestige of the Medical School, improve its laboratories and train students destined to occupy posts as professors of pathology and medicine. His own work on diseases of the kidney in the Atlas of Illustrations of Pathology (1877) and his articles in Quain’s Dictionary of Medicine set a fine example. He was Bradshaw Lecturer at the Royal College of Physicians in 1893. Greenfield succeeded at Edinburgh by virtue of his ability, scientific integrity and passion for exact observation, and in spite of the initial hostility excited by the appointment of a southerner and of his own critical and irritable temperament. Physically robust and a great walker, he was a lover of books and deeply interested in evangelical religious movements. One of his sons became a minister and two of his daughters were missionaries in India. He retired in 1912 to his country house at Elie, Fife, and died at Juniper Green, Midlothian.
G H Brown
[Lancet, 1919; B.M.J., 1919]