Dr. Mary McCabe Williams, MD, FRCPI, FRCPath


THE WORLD of Irish pathology was greatly diminished and much saddened by the recent premature death of Dr. Mary Williams, better known to her colleagues as Dr. Mary McCabe. She finally lost her battle against a disease on which she herself was an expert and whose inroads she resisted with a degree of fortitude and courage which earned her the admiration of all. She retired only when physically unable to carry out her duties as a consultant histopathologist at St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin.

Mary McCabe was born in Navan, where her father was in business, and after finishing school in 1952 proceeded to University College, Dublin, intending, as she herself said, to study law. Finding the queue to sign on of which she was a member moving very slowly, she transferred to a nearby rapidly moving queue which led to medicine. She had a brilliant undergraduate career, culminating in an honours degree, first place and hospital gold medals. Following pre registration posts at St. Vincent's, she moved to the Department of Pathology at UCD, which was being revitalised by the then newly appointed J. W. Harman.

She took a first class honours B.Sc., competed for and won an NUI travelling scholarship which took her to London where she worked on research projects in the pathology laboratories of the Royal College of Surgeons. About this time, she met and married her husband, Dr Tom Williams, classical scholar and folklorist. Shortly afterwards, they went to Australia. A lectureship in histology in Brisbane was good training for the future histopathologist, as was a lecturers post in pathology in Sydney. Here, too, her daughter Thecla was born.

On the family's return to Dublin, Mary rejoined the staff of UCD Pathology Department later moving to St. Vincent's Hospital where she was appointed a consultant in 1974. There her professional skill won her wide spread admiration, while her knowledge of the literature became a legend. Whether in the laboratory or autopsy room, her standard was always of the highest and she tolerated no sloppiness in work or reporting.

In an expanding field, she managed to achieve an extraordinary level of skill in many areas ranging from skin disease to the lymphomas and breast cancer. A lucid and stimulating teacher, the ease of delivery of her lectures and presentations masked dedicated preparation. Most students who passed through her hands would have been familiar with the "McCabe minimal criteria".

She was a voracious reader, favouring the classical novelists. Her comments on the passing scene and her keen sense of the absurd often amused her friends and colleagues. Her warm hearted and sympathetic nature was appreciated by a large number of trainee pathologists, most of whom are now in consultant posts both in Ireland and abroad.

Her achievements were recognised by many professional bodies she was a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists and of the Faculty of Pathology of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. Her election directly to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1985 pleased her greatly, and she was president of the section of pathology of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland. It is sad indeed that such a person was cut off when she still had so much to offer, and her death has left a large gap in the Department of Pathology at St. Vincent's Hospital. The loss is even greater for her family and our sympathies are extended to Tom, her husband daughter Thecla and her son in law John. May she rest in peace.