Lives of the fellows

James Crooks

b.22 March 1919 d.3 January 1983
CBE(1982) MB ChB Glasg(1951) MD(1959) FRFPS(1954) MRCP(1956) MRCPE(1956) MRCPG(1962) FRCPE(1963) FRCPG(1964) FRCP(1969) MFCM(1979)

James Crooks was born in Glasgow, where his father was a post office worker. He was educated at North Kelvinside School, but an important part of his early training took place in the Life Boys and the Boys Brigade. From the age of 7 to 16, participation in both of these organizations was a major part in his development, and undoubtedly enabled him to withstand his later experiences as a prisoner of war. In the Boys Brigade he was influenced by the radiologist, Fergus Leslie Henderson, the ‘Doc’, who was in charge of the 69th Boys Brigade Company. It was here that he took part in organized games, bathing, boating, fishing, hill-climbing, cycle tours, nature study and various excursions. He became a leader of his squad, developed an interest in literature, took a principal part in an opera, and captained the first eleven at cricket and won the bronze award which he treasured throughout his life. When he was 16 his father died and he had to leave school to help support his mother and younger sister. He entered a firm of stockbrokers as a clerk and during this period began to write short stories, some of which were published, and he attended night classes for further training in writing.

Jim joined the territorial army at the time of the Munich crisis, and a few days before war broke out he was called up to the Royal Corps of Signals as a sergeant. After Pearl Harbour he was sent out with the 18th Division to Singapore, landing a few days before it surrendered to the Japanese. For the next three and a half years he was a prisoner of war in the notorious Changi prison and worked on the Burma railway. He was always reticent about this period but it was at this time that his qualities of leadership began to emerge. His training in the Boys Brigade and his early acquired maturity after the death of his father stood him in good stead. He initiated a primitive social service by which squares of stamped paper acted as a ‘money reward’ shared with those who were too unwell to work. He also contributed to courses in the ‘university of Changi’. After being posted as missing for 19 months he managed to get a postcard through to his wife and childhood sweetheart, Betty, whom he had married in 1940.

He returned to Glasgow in 1945. His experiences in the Far East, exposed to disease and death, had made him ferociously determined to become a doctor, but he was without any entrance qualifications. He managed to squeeze about two and a half years work into three months and remarkably gained a place in medicine in the University of Glasgow in 1946.

From this point in James’s life everything seemed easier. After a distinguished passage through medical school he graduated in 1951. He spent his junior medical years in Glasgow hospitals, in particular a period in the Southern General Hospital where he wrote his first papers on canicola fever. In 1954 he moved to the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, to the department of medicine under Sir Edward Wayne. Their partnership was a most effective one. Sir Edward sparked off his enthusiasm in the statistical approach to medicine and therapeutics and in thyroid disease, and this work on thyroid disease culminated in 1960 in the Bellahouston medal gained for ‘eminent merit of an MD thesis’.

These interests formed the basis of distinguished work in his post as senior lecturer in the department of materia medica and therapeutics in the University of Aberdeen from 1960 to 1969, and from then as professor of pharmacology and therapeutics in the University of Dundee.

Jim Crooks was always interested in medical teaching both at an individual level and in the development of medical curricula. As a senior registrar he would take under his wing the unfortunate undergraduate or postgraduate who had difficulty in passing the clinical exam, and in this he almost had a 100% success rate. He played important parts in the planning and implementation of the new medical curriculum in Aberdeen, and in the development and establishment of a centre for medical education in Dundee.

His approach to any problem was essentially pragmatic and practical. His methodology was always thorough and painstaking and communicated with a beguiling simplicity, a product of his skill in writing and teaching. Throughout his career his wide research interests were not only in clinical pharmacology, therapeutics and endocrinology, but also in the application of computers in medicine, and the place of health economics and audit in medical practice. In particular his work on drug handling in the elderly, for which he was co-director of an MRC programme, on drug metabolism and on adverse drug reactions, were all of high distinction.

His work on the drug kardex system was a model of simplicity, as was his hospital formulary, both of which were widely copied elsewhere. He maintained throughout his life his interest in thyroid disease and initiated the Scottish Automated Follow-Up Register (SAFUR), which is a computer based follow-up system for thyroid disease in Scotland. It was as chairman of the Undergraduate Medical Education Committee of Dundee Medical School that Jim Crooks played an important part in developing the medical curriculum and setting up the centre for medical education in Dundee. He was a most valued member of the Committee on Safety of Medicines from 1977 until his death; of the Chief Scientist Committee of the Scottish Home and Health Department, and of numerous other committees and subcommittees in the Health Service; he was a member of the Tayside Health Board, and its policy and resources and general purposes committees; a member of the BBC medical advisory committee; the University representative on the General Medical Council; regional adviser to the Medical Council on Alcoholism; a leading member of Tenovus Tayside; he was also a consultant in the World Health Organization.

His knowledge and experience were widely sought in Canada, the United States and Russia. His initiative and drive earned him numerous research grants and contracts, culminating in the establishment of Drug Development (Scotland) in Dundee in 1982. He hoped this would become a model of collaboration between university and industry, and a means of generating funding for medical research. His outstanding work received acclaim, and several awards, in 1982. He received the first Lilly prize for outstanding contributions to clinical pharmacology over a period of years, and in November 1982 he gave the second annual Glaxo/Strathclyde lecture. In the New Year’s Honours List he was awarded the CBE.

He was a man of great strength of character, accompanied by a modest and compassionate personality. He always exuded good sense, hopefulness and humour. His experience as a prisoner of war undoubtedly played an important part in his development, although he was well trained for this in his association with the Boys Brigade in Glasgow. He never showed the slightest bitterness about his experiences as a prisoner of war and in fact was happy to welcome Japanese colleagues to his department. He played ball games well, enjoying the competitive aspects of tennis and badminton and, more recently, golf - he was a member of the Royal and Ancient. His marriage to Betty in 1940 was a source of great strength to him. They had one son, who is also a doctor.

Sir Abraham Goldberg

[Brit.med.J., 1983, 286, 312; Lancet, 1983, 1, 253; Times, 13 Jan 1983; Daily Telegraph, 4 Jan 1983]

(Volume VII, page 126)

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