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James Dixon Boyd (1907 - 1969):
Physician; anatomist


James Dixon Boyd was a highly prominent anatomist: researcher, writer and teacher, “unquestionably one of the greatest anatomists of the day” – so, the Ulster Medical Journal.  

He was born in Brooklyn, New Jersey; his father James was from Straid, near Ballynure, County Antrim, son of a shopkeeper, and had emigrated aged 17; his mother, Grace Ellen Smythe, was of the third generation of a family originally from Enniskillen. She died when James Dixon was seven, and his father, a travelling salesman, took his children with him on the road for a year, after which James Dixon was able to attend the Louisa May Alcott School in Chicago, where he did well. He supplemented this education through use of Carnegie Libraries, until, in 1917, his father returned to his homeland, and James Dixon attended Larne Grammar School, followed by the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.
 
He entered Queen’s University, Belfast, in 1924 on an entrance scholarship and in 1927 graduated BSc in Anatomy with first class honours, then MB in 1930, again with first class honours, including several prizes. He took up a house job at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, at once, a year later he was a demonstrator in the Department of Anatomy meanwhile obtaining an MSc in 1932 for a thesis “A contribution to the comparative anatomy and embryology of the mammalian lips” and MD in 1934 with gold medal, for his thesis entitled “A contribution to the morphology and embryology of the carotid sinus and the carotid body: with an appendix on the clinical significance of these structures”. He was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship at the Carnegie Institution in Baltimore, where he spent a year. In 1935 he was appointed Lecturer in Anatomy at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Clare College, soon becoming Professorial Fellow, and in 1938, was appointed Professor of Anatomy at the London Hospital Medical School. He stayed there until 1951, when he was appointed to the Chair of Anatomy at Cambridge. He would spend the rest of his career in this post.
 
He wrote and published a lot: apart from a large number of articles, there was an outstanding book co-written with William James Hamilton and HW Mossman, Human embryology: prenatal development of form and function which was first published in 1938 and went through several editions and reprints. A second book he co-wrote with Hamilton was The Human Placenta, though sadly he did not survive to see it published (1970). Many esteemed the co-operation between Dixon Boyd and Hamilton to be that of two outstanding anatomists, Hamilton slightly less intellectually critical, though energetic and well-organised, Dixon Boyd intellectually more incisive, a little less rigorous in practical ways – they complemented each other. As a teacher or supervisor, he was extremely highly regarded; besides his own specialties, he had a wide range of interests, not confined to the scientific, had an impressive memory, and was a good-natured, sympathetic character: all the qualities, therefore, of the ideal postgraduate supervisor. His reputation amongst his peers in the profession could scarcely have been higher; even professors from distinguished US universities would cross the Atlantic to consult him.
 
He had of course a number of professional honours and distinctions. He was President of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland (now The Anatomical Society) in 1951 – one of his successors would be William James Hamilton, his collaborator; he acted as editor of the Journal of Anatomy; Fellow of the International Institute of Embryology; Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Academy of Arts (again, Hamilton occupied this post); abroad, he was Woodward Lecturer at Yale University; and was an honorary member of the Anatomische Gesellschaft (the German-based international society for the anatomical sciences). He had the degree of DSc, honoris causa, conferred on him by Queen’s University in 1961 and in 1963 was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (as would be Hamilton).
 
However, he increasingly suffered from a serious pulmonary illness, and died aged just sixty. He was survived by his wife, Dr Amelie Loewenthal, whom he had married in 1933 when they were fellow students.

 

 




Born: 29 September 1907
Died: 7 February 1969
Richard Froggatt
Bibliography:

Ulster Medical Journal, volume 56, Supplement, August 1987, S44-S45