Designatory Letters: 
MB Hong Kong 1952, MRCP Edin 1957, MD Hong Kong 1958, FRCP Edin 1966


Sir David Todd was born in Canton (Quangzhou) in 1928. His childhood and early years in China and Hong Kong were marked by repeated upheavals due to the Japanese invasion and World War II during which he witnessed horrendous atrocities, and experienced enforced separation from his adoptive parents. His adopted father, Dr Paul Todd, was an American medical missionary who established the Paul Todd Clinic and Hospital serving the poor and needy (renamed the Second People's Children Hospital in 1949). Dr Todd had played a leading educational role both as an administrator and teacher in the medical schools in Canton. David knew very early on that Medicine was to be his calling.

In 1947, with Civil War and further chaos approaching all of southern China, David with a few classmates transferred from Lingnan Medical School to join the first post-War student intake of Hong Kong University (HKU). His scholastic years in HKU were simply brilliant— coming first in almost all the subjects, he graduated MBBS in 1952 with numerous awards (including the Ho Fook and Chan Kai Ming Prizes for coming tops in the First and Final MB Examinations).

The first post-War Professor of Medicine, AJS McFadzean, recognised his attributes and talents including his meticulous presentation of cases very early on in David's clinical years and clerkships. Immediately after the year of housemanship, David was invited to join the academic staff, becoming one of McFadzean's first mentees. ‘Over the next 2 decades, this 'McFadzean and Todd' dream team brought about remarkable developments in the Department of Medicine. They launched training programmes in different medical specialties and initiated a number of ground breaking research projects,’ quoting Emeritus Professor Rosie Young in her eulogy at Sir David's Memorial Service at HKU Loke Yew Hall. Not surprisingly, David became his successor in 1974, becoming the first Chinese to be appointed Professor of Medicine at HKU, having had a personal professorship conferred in 1972.

Professor Todd's aspirations went beyond Hong Kong. It was at this time the close links and friendship Sir David had with Singapore Medicine and her Academy were consolidated. In 1974, as a world authority in Haematology, he was invited to visit Singapore as the first distinguished Visiting Academician, tutoring and teaching for a week, especially in the field of his expertise, in all major hospitals, and to give a lecture to academicians on advances in Lymphoma (being an expert of the disease). David also had a special interest in Singapore's medical developments and postgraduate training, attending and contributing to many Singapore-Malaysia Congresses and serving as external examiner in Medicine over the years. The Academy was delighted to confer on him its highest honour, the Honorary Fellowship in 1986. From his citation, he was presented as ‘a teacher, a healer, and an academician of outstanding qualities... if there had been no David Todd to light up the path of Medicine in this region, it would have been necessary to invent him. The Academy counts him as a close friend and colleague.’

In 1987, he contributed a masterly paper to the Annals of the Academy of Medicine on Continuing Medical Education (CME), quoting Sir William Osler: ‘The highest conviction to get into the mind of a beginner is that the education upon which he is engaged is not a college course, not a medical course, but a life course, for which the work of few years under teachers is but a preparation.’ A decade later, Singapore introduced its mandatory CME programme based much on his views.

In Hong Kong, he led the University Department of Medicine at Queen Mary Hospital (QMH) from 1974 to 1989, continuing to serve thereafter as Emeritus Professor. During his 15-year tenure, the department progressed from strength to strength. He taught, lectured and nurtured generation after generation of students and physicians, instilling in them the attributes of ministering to patients with all care, compassion and humility. Many are now superb physicians, holding leadership positions in government and in Hong Kong's 2 medical schools and universities. Specialties were consolidated and new ones introduced. Family Medicine and primary care had always been of chief importance to him and he added the discipline to the department. In his laboratories, research progressed immensely, recruiting top biomedical scientists to his fold. One was Professor Vivian Chan, who with Sir David, led and developed the first deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) diagnostic laboratory in the region and established the DNA prenatal diagnostic programme for common genetic diseases in Hong Kong. David's successor in 1989 was another respected member of his team, Professor TK Chan, who also succeeded him as President of the Hong Kong (HK) College of Physicians.

His abiding interest and foresight in postgraduate medical education, specialist training and professionalism led to the founding of the Hong Kong College of Physicians in 1986, with him justly becoming the foundation President. In bringing the entire MRCPUK examinations to Hong Kong (the first overseas centre to have this privilege), this allowed candidates not to have the need to fly the distance to the United Kingdom (UK) just to take these examinations. Ten years later, Singapore became the next centre for similar joint collaboration with the UK Royal Colleges of Physicians with Singapore holding the first Practical Assessment of Clinical Examination Skills (PACES) in 2001, even before hospitals in the UK. It was a pleasure to welcome the HK College's delegation of observer examiners for this landmark event. His foresight later led to the founding of the HK Academy of Medicine which he led as the Founding President for 6 years before ‘retiring’ to Cambridge in 1997. While on a reunion tour in Spain with classmates and friends in the early 90s, he was delighted when a fax arrived informing that following his proposal, the Jockey Club was honoured to donate and present the Academy with the Building at the medical hub on Wong Chuck Hang Road which would house all the component Colleges including the College of Family Physicians. The Academy has indeed grown from strength to strength, enjoying close friendship with Singapore’s Academy and the sister Academy of Malaysia. We now have regular Tripartite Congresses in our cities.

David's immense contributions to Medicine and achievements won him numerous awards and accolades in Hong Kong and afar. Queen Elizabeth II graciously bestowed on him the knighthood in 1995 and the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) a few years earlier.

Sir David ‘retired’ to Cambridge for a well-earned rest. He was a man of letters, widely read in literature, happily indulging in his love of music, attending the concert halls of Britain and Europe. He was most warmly received by the Cambridge medical academics and participated actively in clinical events especially at Addenbrooke's, the main teaching hospital. His friends in Scotland had always held him in the highest esteem. Glasgow Royal Infirmary, the home base of his mentor, AJS McFadzean, was his first overseas training centre in 1956 and Edinburgh provided his passport to ‘higher physician training’ through the MRCP in 1957. He greatly cherished the Honorary Fellowship of the Glasgow Royal College that was conferred on him.

In 2008, he returned to Hong Kong to the delight of his friends and the medical fraternity. He enjoyed the meetings at his department in QMH, the Academy and the Colleges even when not in the best of health. During these years, he received compassionate and holistic care by his former students at QMH, where he spent almost all of his professional life in service to Medicine. Providentially, here in his last days, surrounded by his family, some beloved friends and students, he passed on peacefully on 16 August 2017 to the ‘many mansions’ of his Lord.

In his memorial book of HKU, I (CHC) wrote ‘my flight to Hong Kong on 30th August was with a heart filled with sorrow and was to bid farewell to our lifelong family friend, Professor Sir David Todd, and to proffer personally and privately our heartfelt condolences to David's brother Jonathan and his family, on behalf of the Chew family, his dear friends and the medical fraternity of Singapore. It was heartening to attend the memorial and committal service the next day and to hear David's choice of scriptures, music and hymns. David has been specially dear to us for decades, especially to my wife, Anna, since Lingnan Medical School days in Canton... coming to HKU together in 1947...and to me since 1949...Robert Louis Stevenson wrote ‘gentleness and cheerfulness, these come before all morality—they are the perfect duties.’ David was a unique gentle man always cherishing these values while ministering to his patients with gentleness, compassion and care. He enriched all his friends and many others...’

Professor Sir David Todd stands out as the doyen of Medicine in Hong Kong and was beloved by all his peers, colleagues and friends in Hong Kong and beyond. He dedicated his life to teaching, to research and in caring and healing the sick with compassion. We believe he has shaped more than anyone else the high standards and practice of Medicine Hong Kong now enjoys.

We take comfort that David's legacy lives on in the department of Medicine at QMH, in the professorships and orations named after him and through the recently established 'Paul and Margeret Todd Scholarship for Medical and Nursing Students'.

Chin Hin Chew, FAMS, (Hon)FHKCP

Past Master, Academy of Medicine, Singapore

Tai Kwong Chan, FAMS, (Hon)FHKCP

Past President, Hong Kong College of Physicians

This obituary was previously published with more photographs here, and is reproduced with the kind permission of the Academy of Medicine, Singapore.