In today’s world of sensationalist advertising, the word ‘unique’ is widely used to attract the readers’ attention to some otherwise mundane item; such is far from the word’s true meaning of ‘being the only one of a particular type’ or ‘without equal or like’. The same cannot be said of Professor Bill Mapleson – a truly unique person!
This year marks Bill’s 60th Anniversary of joining the Anaesthetic Department in Cardiff; perhaps not in itself unique, until one realises that he is still an integral part of the Department! Just as the ‘other person’ to mark a Diamond Anniversary this year has worked with a stream of Prime Ministers, Bill has worked alongside four Departmental Professors in Cardiff. It was my privilege to work in various roles alongside him for nearly half of his 60 years and be ‘his’ third Prof – a more supportive and helpful colleague would have been hard to find.
Bill Mapleson was born in London in 1926. He studied physics at Durham University, graduating in 1947. After two years of National Service in the Royal Air Force, he returned to Durham to study for his PhD on ‘Point discharge in atmospheric electricity’. His academic life changed when he answered an advertisement, from the Department of Anaesthetics in the then Welsh National School of Medicine, for ‘a research assistant/lecturer with a wide knowledge of physics, physiology or pharmacology’. Bill thought that applying for this totally ‘alien’ post would give him useful interview practice prior to seeking a post more appropriate to his field of study. To his surprise, he was offered the position and decided to take to job for five years to gain useful employment experience – that five years stretched to 60!
This citation can never be long enough to cover all the areas into which Bill has delved, but one thing is clear in that over the past 60 years, he has managed to provide understanding of complex topics in a simple manner to even simpler anaesthetists. The range of contributions he has made to our specialty from locally nurturing and encouraging new researchers through to being the international ‘authority’ on a topic is seemingly endless. All this has been done in his typical manner of belittling those same contributions – only he would say that his main contribution to understanding anaesthetic breathing systems was to label them A,B,C & D!
However, any citation for Bill Mapleson would be incomplete without specific mention of the Anaesthetic Research Society; Bill was a founder member in 1958 and has only missed a handful of meetings in over 50 years. Anyone who has ever presented at the ARS will have seen Bill in his regular seat at the front from where he usually asks both the most telling of questions as well as providing the most helpful advice – leaving one with a sense of having been thoroughly tested but not roughed-up!
Last and certainly not least, Bill would agree that he would be only half the man he is without his wife, Doreen – a truly delightful couple and always a pleasure to meet.
Bill Mapleson has had an effect on every anaesthetist in the world. He has helped us to appreciate the physical and scientific basis of our specialty. Few people can be more deserving of recognition than Bill Mapleson – a truly unique person.
Emeritus Professor of Anaesthesia