Obituary: Dr William Richmond, biochemist

Dr William Richmond, biochemist. Born: 21 November, 1941, in Springfield, Fife. Died: 18 August, 2010, near Advie, Morayshire, aged 68.

AS A biochemist, Dr Bill Richmond, a Fifer, became fascinated with the fat-saturated "Scottish breakfast". Not how it tasted - although he may have had the odd one - but what it does to our cholesterol levels and how our bodies handle it.

In 1973, before most of us had even heard of the word cholesterol, never mind how to spell it, he devised a system of measuring cholesterol in the blood which has become a worldwide benchmark.

His focus, before it was fashionable, was on how what we eat, smoke and/or drink affects our cholesterol levels. When he started looking into it 40 years ago, few people wanted to know.

Now, to many, especially those watching their weight, it has become almost an obsession. Richmond's breakthrough 1973 work was entitled "Preparation and properties of a cholesterol oxidase from Nocardia sp. and its application to the enzymatic assay of total cholesterol in serum".

It became known simply as the "the Richmond Process" and helped lead to the conclusion that there was both "good" and "bad" cholesterol.

It helped scientists and doctors around the world to understand, prevent or at least treat many cases of heart disease. Richmond became in demand at research conferences throughout the UK and overseas.

Richmond, the son of a Fife bank manager and a village postmistress, was working for the Medical Research Council (MRC) at Northwick Park hospital in Harrow, north-west London, when he saw a new and relatively swift way of measuring cholesterol and its effects.

Until then, most research had involved chemicals including hydrochloric acid, the use of which was potentially dangerous. Nowadays, the Richmond Process is almost routine in laboraties around the world and has identified innumerable cases of potential or actual heart disease. The number of lives it has saved is incalculable but certainly in the thousands at least.

William Richmond was born in the village of Springfield, near Cupar, on 21 November, 1941, went to Cupar's Bell Baxter School and graduated in chemistry from St Andrew's before working for the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy.

It was from there that he was hired by the MRC at its Clinical Research Centre in Harrow. He went on to spend his career as a biochemist and consultant in London area hospitals, notably St Mary's, Paddington, where, along with Professor Robert Elkeles, he studied the links between cholesterol, blood pressure, vascular disease and diabetes.

Dr Richmond retired in 2006 as head of the department of chemical pathology at St Mary's.

It was there that his research team carried out "Fat-Tolerance Tests" to compare the differing effects of various foods on different people. Often, one group would be given a "Scottish breakfast" while the other would be served the so-called "Greenland breakfast" - not quite as attractive to look at, smell or taste, perhaps, but high in healthy fish oils.

Richmond's book Lipids and Lipid Disorders, written together with his colleague Dr Michael Feher and studying the effects of fats, oils and other organic compounds, is considered essential reading around the world by students of cholesterol and other fat-related issues.

Despite the fact that his Richmond Process is recognised worldwide, Bill Richmond remained a modest biochemist and researcher and made no significant financial gain from his breakthrough discovery or his lifetime's work. Neither did he care to. A proud Scot and a fine piper - he composed his own tunes and was a member of the Scottish Piping Society - he spent his spare time studying decent wines and the finest whiskies of his land.

As an amateur, he also liked to design his own tartans, including one he teasingly called "the Clan MacFrog" for some good French friends. In retirement, however, his first loves were his vintage open-top Riley and his fly-fishing.

While visiting his family in Scotland, he was wading knee-deep in the River Spey, near Advie Bridge, when he apparently lost his footing, his waders possibly filled with water and he was swept away.

His body was discovered six miles downstream at Blacksboat, where it was identified by his brother Robert, who had come to aid the search-and-rescue attempt.

Richmond's wife Joan died in 2001, aged only 53, after suffering an anaphylactic shock when she was strung by a bee.

Dr William Richmond is survived by his parents Bill and Hilda of Newport-on-Tay, his brothers Robert, also of Newport, and Iain, of Broughty Ferry, and his sister Irene.