Kenneth Walton, 1919-2008

June 5, 2008

A Birmingham professor who fed workers greasy fry-ups to help explore the causes of heart disease died on 7 May aged 83.

Kenneth Walton dedicated his life to researching heart disease, thrombosis and arthritis. He worked as a lecturer in the experimental pathology department at the University of Birmingham until he retired in 1982.

In 1973, he investigated the effect of a traditional English breakfast on the blood as part of a five-year research programme investigating the causes of heart disease and strokes, The Birmingham Post said. The study, funded by a £74,000 grant from the Medical Research Council, suggested a link between fat in the blood and an increased risk of heart problems. The research also investigated whether heart disease was hereditary.

By 1974, Professor Walton's team had screened 11,000 patients in a focused drive to reduce heart attacks. His research work won the Birmingham region thousands of pounds worth of funding. In 1983, he helped to secure £35,000 for research into rheumatic diseases.

Professor Walton was born in British-ruled India and educated at University College London and University College Hospital. He was called up to fight in the Second World War in 1943 shortly after receiving his medical degree. He was posted to India and Burma, promoted to major and became assistant director of pathology in Hong Kong Command.

He spent almost his entire working life at the University of Birmingham, apart from a Rockefeller travelling fellowship as research fellow at Harvard University in 1952. He was made the director of the department of investigative pathology and the director of the rheumatism research wing.

Paul Bacon, professor of rheumatology at Birmingham, recalled his friend and colleague: "Ken was a gregarious person with a fund of amusing anecdotes that he enjoyed sharing with friends over a glass of wine." Professor Walton was well known across the university in the 1950s as he was chairman of the senior common room.

After Professor Walton retired, he continued to work on various research projects until he had a brainstem stroke. He made a good recovery and despite problems with his balance was still able to enjoy growing fuchsias, travelling abroad and attending concerts and visiting art galleries and the theatre with his wife, Cynthia. She and four children, as well as seven grandchildren, survive him.

"He was particularly pleased that his son Peter became a doctor and that his grandson Alexander is now a medical student at Cambridge, continuing the family medical tradition," Professor Bacon said.

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