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Reye, Ralph Douglas Kenneth (1912–1977)

by Brenda Heagney and G. N. B. Storey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Ralph Douglas Kenneth Reye (1912-1977), pathologist, was born on 5 April 1912 at Townsville, Queensland, youngest of nine children of Carl Albert Hermann Reye, a fruit merchant from Württemberg, and his wife Mabel Mary, née Youngson, who was born in New South Wales. The frequent mispronunciation of Douglas's surname drew his response, 'it rhymes with ''eye"'. After attending Townsville Grammar School, he entered St Paul's College, University of Sydney (M.B., B.S., 1937; M.D., 1945), where he 'passed an unruffled and aloof six years'. He rowed in St Paul's challenge VIII, played an occasional game of tennis and owned a new motorcar. Tall, slim and sensitive, he was described as a 'bronzed Apollo of the Barrier Reef', as 'Teutonic' looking, and as 'the aesthete, the epicure, the connoisseur'.

In 1939 Reye joined the pathology department of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children; he remained at that institution for the rest of his working life. During World War II he tried to obtain a commission in the Australian Army Medical Corps. Because of a shortage of pathologists in civilian practice, his application proved unsuccessful, but he was appointed honorary captain, Reserve of Officers, in March 1941. When Frank Tidswell, the hospital's director of pathology, died that year, Reye was made acting-director; he was to be confirmed in the post in 1946.

On 3 January 1942 in the chapel of his old college he married with Anglican rites Corrie Saunders (d.1990), a fellow medical practitioner who became director of the Spastic Centre, Mosman, and a notable figure in the treatment and rehabilitation of children with cerebral palsy. Reye wrote a thesis entitled, 'Histiocytic granulomatosis of infants: a comparison of certain ill-defined reticulo-endothelial hyperplasias, based on the study of four cases', for his M.D. He also lectured (part time) in pathology at the university.

Reye's publications were comparatively few, but he contributed more than thirty papers to local and international journals, among them the Archives of Pathology, the Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology, and the Lancet. Although he preferred scientific terminology to popular names and eponyms, his own name was given to two medical conditions: the malignant tumours of childhood which he described in 1956 and 1965 were called Reyeoma I and Reyeoma II. With Graeme Morgan and Jim Baral, he published a paper in the Lancet (1963) on what was later known as the Reye syndrome (encephalopathy with fatty degeneration of the viscera). In 1966 he, Margaret Menser (later Burgess) and David Dorman described renal artery stenosis in the rubella syndrome—the first time that it had been recognized.

Under Reye's direction, the hospital's pathology department expanded steadily. A microbiologist, biochemist, virologist, histopathologist, bacteriologist and two haematologists joined the staff, and a cytogenetics laboratory was established. The director's meticulous attention to detail ensured that requests for equipment were usually approved by the hospital administration without question. Initially responsible for all laboratory work, Reye later confined himself to histopathology. In 1965 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Colleagues found Reye shy and retiring, but ready to give advice to those who sought his help. That he kept the door to his office closed created a barrier for many of the hospital's junior staff. A number of registrars and residents lost the benefit of his expertise in paediatrics, 'not knowing how keen he was to share his experiences with them'. To those who knew him well, he was 'a delightful friend with his own brand of whimsical humour'.

Reye enjoyed reading, art, 'classic' motorcars, and his garden of subtropical trees and plants which overlooked the Lane Cove River at Linley Point. Less than twenty-four hours after he retired from the R.A.H.C. he died of a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm on 16 July 1977 at Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated. His wife and their daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Sydney Medical Society, Senior Year Book (Syd, 1936)
  • D. G. Hamilton, Hand in Hand (Syd, 1979)
  • J. C. Wiseman and R. J. Mulhearn (eds), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 2, 1976-90 (Syd, 1994)
  • Australian Paediatric Journal, 14, 1978, p 48
  • Lancet, 14 Jan 1978, p 111
  • Royal Australasian College of Physicians Archives (Sydney)
  • St Paul's College archives, University of Sydney
  • private information.

Citation details

Brenda Heagney and G. N. B. Storey, 'Reye, Ralph Douglas Kenneth (1912–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/reye-ralph-douglas-kenneth-11511/text20535, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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