Lives of the fellows

Robert Victor Coxon

b.14 November 1914 d.2 June 1980
MRCS LRCP(1938) MB BS Lond(1938) FRCS(1940) MRCP(1940) MD(1942) DPH(1946) Dphil Oxon(1952)

Robert Victor Coxon was a reader in human physiology at Oxford for almost 30 years. He was born in London, the son of Robert Cecil Coxon, a local government official, and his wife Beatrice Annie Phillips, and was educated at St Dunstan’s College, Catford. He entered Guy’s Hospital as a War Memorial scholar in arts, took his MB BS London in 1938 and, after house appointments at Guy’s, took the FRCS and MRCP in 1940. After two years as medical registrar, he served in India as a medical specialist in the RAMC for three years, where he investigated the therapeutics of malaria and dysentery. It was in India that he met and married Mary Wynne Bowen, daughter of a schoolmaster, and herself a doctor in the RAMC.

After a year in chemical pathology, he became Betty Brookes research fellow at Oxford and worked for a DPhil on the carbohydrate metabolism of the brain under Sir Rudolph Peters. He continued to work on biochemical problems of the brain for the rest of his career, working for a year in the United States with Van Slyke. He retained academic contacts in the USA, working also with Baird Hastings and Chaikoff. Their influences were apparent in his work on CO2 transfer using radioactive markers, on diuresis in dogs, and in critical accounts of the reliability of various physical instruments in physiological use.

In 1951 he was appointed reader in human physiology, fellow and lecturer, and later professorial fellow of Exeter College. He was appointed adviser to preclinical students - a post which at Oxford takes the place of a preclinical dean.

Coxon was a member of the General Board of Faculties for over 20 years; served on the Nuffield Committee and was chairman of the Board of the Faculty of Medicine. On two occasions he was acting head of department between appointments, and was relied on for advice on university administration and politics by three heads of department. As preclinical adviser he was very helpful to undergraduates who were trying to get into clinical medical schools. Some of his strongly held conservative views were unfashionable, often preceded by a deprecating ‘I may be Blimpish but...’, but they were to the point and often convincing. He stoutly defended the tutorial system and the independence of tutors. He had high standards in research, and feeling that physiology was becoming more quantitative, he took up a degree course in mathematics with the Open University at the age of 60.

Victor Coxon was excellent company in college and obviously derived great pleasure from his fellowship there. He had a longstanding love of France, and particularly of Brantôme, where he bought a cottage. His fluent French enabled him to be quickly welcomed by the local community, and one lawyer wrote to his daughter; ‘II était un sage’. In spite of a heavy burden of ill health in later years he retained his sharpness of mind and clarity of thought. He also had a mischievous sense of humour; he loved a good witty tale and delivered them skilfully. He was the centre of a happy family; there were three children of the marriage, one son and two daughters. His son is also in medical practice.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1980, 281, 688, 878; Times, 12 June 1980]

(Volume VII, page 118)

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