Professor Michael John Davies, MD, FRCPath, FRCP, FACC, FESC
July 8, 1937–February 18, 2003
Cardiovascular medicine and science lost a leading light with the death in February of Prof Michael J. Davies. A leading exponent of the concept of plaque rupture, Michael Davies’ observations, thought, and articulate advocacy led a major shift in the concepts of the mechanisms of acute myocardial infarction that have transformed contemporary cardiology. Michael Davies’ career in medicine began in 1955 with his studies at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, from which he graduated in 1961. He developed a keen interest in pathology during his early postgraduate days, which solidified when he joined St George’s Hospital as a Registrar (Resident) in Pathology during 1963. When he began his association with this institution, which was to become his academic home, it occupied its original quarters near Buckingham Palace in central London, the site where John Hunter, Edward Jenner, and Sir Henry Gray had worked. Here his research began with work on the pathology of heart block, which led to the award of his academic MD degree in 1968 and culminated in his appointment to the first British Heart Foundation Chair of Cardiovascular Pathology in 1981. His tenure of this position, alongside major strengths in cardiac surgery, led by the late John Parker, and cardiology, led by Aubrey Leatham, effectively created a triumvirate in these three key disciplines, thus furnishing the foundation for St George’s Hospital’s continued excellence as a leading center for research on and treatment of cardiovascular disease, even as it transferred from its historic home to modern quarters.
The majority of the readers of Circulation will immediately associate Michael Davies’ name with the major contributions he made to our understanding of the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis and, in particular, plaque instability. Yet his contributions to cardiovascular pathology went far beyond these seminal observations to include studies on cardiac valve disease, cardiomyopathies, and malfunctions of the conduction system. He authored more than 200 original articles and chapters as well as a number of books and atlases, which have become essential reference texts. Beyond their sheer number, originality, uncommon insight, and clinical importance characterized many of his papers. His publications often included beautiful examples of his skill as a photographer. Most famously, his photographs of the micro- and macroanatomy of atherosclerotic plaques painted an unparalleled picture of the pathophysiology of this disease.
His many academic distinctions as a pathologist included election to Fellowships of the Royal College of Physicians, the American College of Cardiology, and the European Society of Cardiology. In 1995 he delivered the Paul Dudley White Lecture at the American Heart Association meeting, in which he encapsulated eloquently and with typical clarity his work on plaque instability.1 At the 2001 AHA meeting, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award, presented in absentia. He was cofounder of the European School of Cardiovascular Pathology, was on the editorial board of a number of journals, including Circulation, and was a former editor-in-chief of Heart. In 1999, he became Assistant Medical Director for Research at the British Heart Foundation.
Although he was modest about his research, often referring to it as being merely observation rather than true science, he understood well that a pathologist could only see part of the story, albeit a fundamentally important one. He realized that achievement of the goal of gaining a more complete understanding of the pathological basis of disease would require cooperation with experts in other disciplines. Professor Davies’ collaborations, delving into areas outside his own specialty, ranged from mechanics and the modeling of stress patterns across plaques during the cardiac cycle to genetics and cell biology.
Michael Davies’ quiet enthusiasm for his subject inspired many who worked with and studied under him. As colleague or collaborator, one could always rely on him to focus on the clinically and scientifically relevant questions, to offer a meticulous eye for detail, and to maintain an uncompromising desire for rigorously high standards. As a mentor, Mike was always a willing and sympathetic listener; a source of patient and calm advice; and hugely generous and unselfish with his time, his famous photographs, and his creative ideas. He was as warm a human as he was accomplished as an investigator and teacher. He enjoyed a good meal and animated conversation with friends and colleagues. Spirited debates with him about matters medical and other would reveal his critical capacities, but never obscure friendship. Those who knew him will miss immensely his personal warmth and good humor. His devotion to his wife Anthea was evident to all, and it is tragic and ironic that his duel with cancer began just as he was settling into a long-anticipated, relished, and well-earned retirement at his country home, Paradise House, in the heart of the English countryside, which they both so loved.
Few transform a field as decisively as did Michael J. Davies. His contributions affect the daily parlance and practice of cardiovascular physicians and surgeons worldwide. His influence will long be felt, and his passing leaves a great gap. ⇓⇓