Bill Richmond drowned in the River Spey on 25 August 2010. A native of Springfield, Bill had attained renown in the field of biochemistry for inventing a blood cholesterol test that has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands worldwide. This test, named the Richmond process in his honour, has been adopted as the standard worldwide.
Dr Richmond was educated at Bell Baxter High School in Cupar and St Andrews University before rising to become head of the department of chemical pathology at St Mary's Hospital in London.
It is thought that Bill, who was a keen angler, slipped while fishing at Advie Bridge. His waders then filled up with water as he was carried down the fast-flowing river. His body was found six miles downstream from where he had been fishing.
Bill was also an accomplished piper who composed pipe and pibroch music and was a member of the Royal Scottish Pipers Society.
The following obituary notice was published in the Daily Telegraph: 4:29PM BST 30 Aug 2010:
Bill Richmond, who died while salmon fishing in Scotland on August 18 aged 68, was a biochemist and devised the “Richmond process”, a test for measuring the level of cholesterol in the blood which is now used across the world.
Richmond developed a rapid, simple and reproducible measurement of cholesterol in 1973, a time when testing required the use of hazardous chemicals such as hydrochloric acid. The work was carried out for his doctorate at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Clinical Research Centre at Northwick Park, Harrow.
The basic principle of the Richmond process is now incorporated into routine laboratory testing worldwide for this key risk factor for heart disease. But Richmond — who remained modest about his contribution — made little profit from his highly successful discovery; as in many such cases, the financial rewards remained with the host organisation, in this instance the MRC.
William Richmond was born on November 21 1941 at Springfield, Fife, the son of a bank manager and a postmistress. After Bell Baxter School at Cupar, he went up to St Andrews University, where he read Chemistry.
His first job was at the Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy. He then went to the MRC, and spent the rest of his career at hospitals in the London area, becoming principal biochemist at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, in 1980, and consultant clinical scientist and head of department in 1989.
With Dr Robert Elkeles, Richmond formed a research group to investigate the links with cholesterol and vascular disease in diabetes. Working with successive (and successful) medical and laboratory trainees and colleagues, Richmond directed the laboratory investigations.
After a day’s work overseeing the routine NHS department work he would often pick up his white coat and review samples received as part of his collaborative research, ensuring that they were properly separated, labelled and stored. His meticulous attention to detail was a key factor in the success of his clinical trials.
Richmond’s research output was prolific, with regular presentations of original work at national and international meetings. This included the effects of diet, tobacco and alcohol on cholesterol, as well as unique understandings of the effects of diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure treatments on factors linked to heart disease.
To further evaluate the effects of diet, Richmond and his colleagues devised experimental ‘Fat Tolerance Tests’, in which one research group ate what he nicknamed ‘the Greenland breakfast’ (high in fish oils) and the other the ‘Scottish breakfast’ (high in saturated fat).
As head of the biochemistry laboratory at St Mary’s, he took under his wing a series of research fellows and several undergraduate medical students; he also mentored many trainees in chemical pathology.
With Dr Michael Feher, Richmond produced a book, Lipids and Lipid Disorders, which went into four editions and was translated into several languages, selling more than 100,000 copies worldwide. The drawings, devised by Richmond, simplified the complexities of fat metabolism so that they were instructive to both undergraduate and postgraduate audiences.
Richmond also had a life beyond science. He had an extensive knowledge of wine and whiskies. A proud Scotsman (though never a nationalist), he was a highly accomplished player of the bagpipes, composing his own tunes which he would strike up at the drop of a hat.
He was also an authority on tartans, and produced a unique design for some French friends in Paris; the colourful result he christened the “MacFrog”.
A lifelong fisherman, Richmond was wading in the Spey near Advie Bridge when he appears to have lost his footing. His body was discovered at Blacksboat, more than six miles downstream.
His wife, Joan, died nine years ago aged 53 as the result of anaphylactic shock after she was stung by a bee.
The following is taken from a contribution by Grant McLeish for Newsletter Issue 39:
Bill grew up in Springfield and attended Bell Baxter before going on to study at St Andrews University. It was following the family move to St Andrews that Bill met Joan, his future wife. Bill's first job was at the Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy but he spent most of his career in hospitals in London and became head of the department of chemical pathology at St Mary's Hospital in the city. Bill invented a test for blood cholesterol, the Richmond Process, which is used worldwide and is responsible for saving many thousands of lives, a legacy which, along with the lecture theatre at St Mary's Hospital named in his honour in recognition of his work on heart disease and cholesterol, will live on.
He was a modest man despite his achievements and aside from his work he was an accomplished piper, a member of the Scottish Piping Society and also composed pipe music. He enjoyed whisky and was a member of the Royal Scottish Whisky Society. His other love was fishing, and he enjoyed his annual visits to the Spey with friends. It is a bitter irony that this resulted in the fatal accident.
Although retired Bill still continued lecturing part time on some of his medical papers and books which had been published during his career. He also continued as a visiting fellow at a number of London colleges and universities.
I am privileged to have known Bill as a friend from early school days and although we lived many miles apart we managed to keep in touch over the years. Our last get together coincided with the 1953 school reunion which Bill thoroughly enjoyed. Our thoughts are with his parents Bill and Hilda and his brothers Ian and Robert and sister Irene.