Walter Werner Holland was born on March 5, 1929 in Teplice-Sanov, Czechoslovakia to Henry Holland and Hertha Zentner. The family fled persecution under the Nazis, moving to London in 1939. He attended several schools including Rugby School, before going on to St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School to study medicine, developing a passion for research. He qualified in 1954 having obtained a first degree in Physiology.
He served in the Royal Air Force, attached to the Epidemiological Research Laboratory at Colindale, North London and, after an appointment as Lecturer to the Department of Medicine at St Thomas’s, he was made Medical Research Council’s Clinical Research Fellow in the Department of Epidemiology and Medical Statistics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This was followed by a year in the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene. He returned to St Thomas’s in 1962 and was appointed to Professor in 1968.
It was at St. Thomas’s that Walter developed his academic reputation. He established the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Social Medicine and subsequently the associated Health Services Research Unit with funding from the Department of Health. There he assembled a large staff including epidemiologists, social scientists and statisticians. Walter and his team conducted a large number of studies on epidemiology of chronic respiratory disease, blood pressure, smoking, air pollution and the application of epidemiologic principles to health services research. While at St Thomas’, he established close links with LSE, and good relationships with Professor Richard Titmuss and Professor Brian Abel-Smith.
Walter published prodigiously. Among his 300 articles, a ground-breaking paper on the validation of screening procedures published jointly with Archie Cochrane in 1971 became a classic in the field, showing that there was no difference in mortality or morbidity after eight years between those screened regularly, and those who only received their normal medical care. He edited the Oxford Textbook of Public Health, and in 2007 coordinated the publication of the “Development of Modern Epidemiology” to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Epidemiological Association. More recently, in 2013 Walter published a critically acclaimed account of the development of Health Services Research in the UK, and in 2014 an essay entitled Lessons from the Past, in which he shared his reflections on the changes in the organisation and management of health services in the UK over his more than 50 years working in the field.
Walter gained many professional awards and positions which recognised the scale of his contribution to the development of both epidemiology and public health. These included the CBE in 1992, election as Member of the Society of Scholars at the John Hopkins University in 1970, nomination as a “Hero of Public Health” by John Hopkins University in 1992, and the Europe et Médicine Prize of the Institut des Sciences de la Santé. He was President of the International Epidemiological Association and of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine and an Honorary Member of the Italian Society of Public Health. Most recently in 2010 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the Faculty of Public Health.
Walter became a Visiting Professor at the LSE in 1998 at the invitation of Professor Elias Mossialos, and over the years made an enormous contribution to the development of LSE Health and Social Care. He spent his time at LSE writing on the past and future of public health in the UK, screening in health care, the foundations for health improvement, and the development of modern epidemiology. Walter continued to advise and teach, and focussed on providing opportunities for others to undertake research into population health. He was immensely well respected, much loved and admired by his colleagues and will be greatly missed.
Walter is survived by his wife Fiona and his three sons. His son Michael is a Visiting Senior Fellow in the Department.
Professor Elias Mossialos said: “Walter was a giant in his profession and a penetrating thinker. His combination of insightful public health and health policy analysis and wit knew no equal. Walter has been a wonderful colleague, friend and mentor for years.”
Professor Alistair McGuire said: “Walter established a world class centre in public health research at St Thomas’ through asking important questions, meticulous attention to detail and hard work. He did so with an enquiring mind and a gracious allocation of time to colleagues. He kept these professional attributes to the end. He was a kind and friendly colleague who will be sorely missed.”