Arnold Ilardus Klopper, PhD, FRCOG

Arnold Ilardus Klopper, PhD, FRCOG

Arnold Ilardus Klopper, PhD, FRCOG (November 5, 2014)

Arnold Ilardus Klopper was born February 8, 1922, in Ventersburg, near Bloemfontein, South Africa. He died from pneumonia at age 92 on November 5, 2014, in Portlethen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He was an internationally renowned scientist and passionate champion for human rights. The only child of an Afrikaner policeman and his wife, who was of English parentage, he accompanied his father as a boy on his beat in rural areas, where he saw first-hand the poverty and illness endured by the local population that undoubtedly influenced his social activism later in life.

Klopper began his study of medicine in 1943, when he received a scholarship to the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and also took a BSc course in biochemistry. As a student, his views were at odds with the National Party that promoted apartheid. After they came to power in 1948, he moved to London, where he trained in obstetrics and gynaecology at Chase Farm Hospital, Mildmay Hospital, and the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies.

Klopper moved to Edinburgh in 1952 to join the Medical Research Council’s clinical endocrinology research unit in Edinburgh, which was led by Guy Marrian. There, he conducted his most important research. The unit was focused on developing methods for measuring urinary oestrogen, progesterone, and luteinizing hormone metabolites. Klopper was perhaps best known for developing an assay for pregnanediol using the colorimetric method—an important technique for assessing fetal well-being before the development of fetal ultrasound. Klopper went on to investigate changes in oestriol and pregnanediol outputs in conditions such as pre-eclampsia, abortion, rhesus incompatibility, and intrauterine fetal growth restriction. His PhD work concerned the determination of urinary pregnanediol and its physiological significance in women’s bodies.

In 1956, Klopper was recruited by Dugald Baird, to join the Medical Research Council’s obstetric unit at Aberdeen University Hospital, where he had substantial clinical commitments. He was appointed to a personal chair in reproductive endocrinology in October 1973, from which he established an infertility donor insemination service and was known as a strong advocate of women’s right to choose. He was a prolific author of textbooks and had a role in advising WHO on the development of a gynecological service in Uganda, which involved numerous visits to the country.

Klopper had a passion for social activism that was likely based on his experiences accompanying his father. In 1945, he was elected president of the National Union of South African students—which he ran as a non-racial organization—and organized a medical student strike at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand in support of black people working as anatomy demonstrators. Later he continued to campaign against the segregation and oppression of the black population and was also active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

While a student, Klopper met his wife, Mary Turvey, a social scientist who shared his left wing leanings. Mary, whom he married in 1944 and who preceded him in death (2006), was fluent in French, Italian, and German, and had worked with the intelligence corps in Kenya deciphering Italian coded military communications. Klopper devoted much of his retirement to country pursuits, including fly fishing on the River Dee, shooting grouse and pheasants, and entering gundog trials.

Submitted by John O. L. DeLancey, MD

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