Robert Race was born in 1907 in Hull. He was educated at St Paul's School in London, and then St Bartholomew's Hospital where he qualified in medicine in 1933. After qualifying he was an assistant in a pathological laboratory until he got a junior appointment under Professor Sir Ronald Fisher at the Galton Laboratory, University College London, in 1937. At the time Fisher was setting up a small blood grouping department. During the war the blood group unit moved to the Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge with the duty of preparing blood grouping serum for transfusion purposes. With the discovery of the Rh blood groups in America in 1941, Race began to study Rh antigens, advancing the knowledge and understanding of the complexities of this system.
In 1946 Race became Director of the Unit which had moved to the Lister Institute in London, although it operated under the auspices of the Medical Research Council. The Unit regularly received blood samples from all over the world containing antibodies to be identified and Race enjoyed applying blood groups to the problems of human genetics. One of the Unit's important contributions was the discovery of the Xg antigen. Towards the end of 1961 the Unit was sent a serum from America and in it they were able to identify an antibody which recognised an X-linked antigen. Much of his subsequent work directed attempts to improve the gene map of the X-chromosome. Robert Race retired as Director of the Unit in 1973, but continued to have an active involvement in the work of the Unit.
Race married Monica Rotton in 1938. They had three daughters together; Cathy, Lucy, and Nell. Monica Race died in 1955. On 6 Apr 1956 Race married his colleague Ruth Ann Sanger. He died on 15 Apr 1984.
Ruth Sanger was born in 1918 in Southport, Queensland, Australia. After her education she joined the Red Cross blood transfusion service in Sydney and worked in the blood-grouping laboratory. She first came to England in 1946 to work with Race. She briefly returned to Sydney in 1948 after the completion of her PhD and then returned to England in 1950 to rejoin the Blood Group Unit. She is distinguished for her work on the genetic mapping of the X chromosome and her work is very much bound up with that of Race with many key papers being co-written by both Race and Sanger. In 1950 the first edition of Blood Groups in Man, written by Race with Ruth Sanger, was published and quickly became the standard reference text. The sixth edition was published in 1975. Upon the retirement of Race from the Unit in 1973, Sanger became Director until her retirement in 1983. She died on 4 Jun 2001.
Some of the many honours received by Race and Sanger include being Fellows of the Royal Society (Race in 1952, and Sanger in 1972), the Karl Landsteiner Memorial Award jointly awarded in 1957, Race was appointed CBE in 1970, the Philip Levine Award jointly awarded in 1970, and the Gairdner Foundation Award jointly awarded in 1972.