Lives of the fellows

John Owen Fisher Davies

b.8 April 1908 d.4 March 1978
CBE(1964) QPH(1965) MRCS LRCP(1931) MB BS Lond(1931) DPH(1934) MD(1935) DRCOG(1935) MRCP(1964) FRCP(1970)

Jof Davies, as he was always known, was born at Fochriw, Mid-Glamorgan, and spent his childhood in Wales. His father, Eleazar Davies, was a general medical practitioner and his mother, Annie Rosaline, was the daughter of William Owen Morgan, a local headmaster. Eleazar died when Jof was only eight years old and his mother returned to her profession as a school teacher in order to support him and her other child, Jof s sister. From an early age Jof was determined to follow his father into the medical profession and as a first step his mother coached him successfully for entrance to grammar school in the best Welsh tradition of educational self-reliance. Thereafter, never lacking his mother’s encouragement and emotional support, Jof had to win his education competitively. He obtained a place at Epsom College and his education there resulted in his being eligible for Cambridge, which had been his ambition. The expense, however, was beyond the family’s resources and he eventually commenced his medical education at the Middlesex Hospital where he was Freer Lucas scholar. He played rugby enthusiastically, graduated MB BS in 1931 and subsequently obtained a London MD.

Between 1931 and 1935 Jof held a series of house officer posts at the Middlesex, St John and St Elizabeth, City of London Maternity, North Eastern Fever and Willesden Maternity Hospitals. He obtained the DRCOG and by 1934 had entered his chosen field of public health by obtaining a post as assistant medical officer to Staffordshire County Council. He moved to a similar post in the Borough of Willesden in 1936, obtained a DPH and was promoted to principal medical officer, Middlesex County Council, in 1939. This county council was particularly renowned for its health services, local authorities having wide scope in those days. Jof stayed in Middlesex throughout the war years, administering emergency services and acquiring the skills he was later to apply to his work in the National Health Service. In 1947 he was appointed deputy senior administrative medical officer to the new North West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board in readiness for the commencement of the National Health Service in 1948. He held this post for three years and was then appointed senior administrative medical officer to the Oxford region. Jof was in charge of the Oxford region for seventeen years, apart from a two-year secondment to the Ministry of Health from 1961 to 1963 as a senior principal medical officer. During all that period he never ceased his attempts to measure the performance and outcome of hospital care and to use his considerable powers of persuasion to obtain change and improvement. Some aspects of his work and ideas were published by the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust — Towards a measure of medical care, 1962, and Problems and progress in medical care, 1964. By far the greatest evidence of his abilities and personal leadership, however, was the achievement of changes in the way hospital services were delivered in the Oxford region. Jof would define and measure a problem, pilot a solution and, if successful, would demonstrate the value of a new method of working to his clinical colleagues, convincing them that a change was worthwhile. This personal approach, undertaken with intellectual skill but also with charm and humour, earned him both respect and friendship. The Oxford region became notable for quality, enterprise and efficiency in its hospital services. Jof was honoured, being made CBE in 1964 and QHP in 1965.

He had not much enjoyed his secondment to the Ministry of Health - he found this period useful but irksome and preferred his own personal style of administration to that of a Government department. He was nevertheless prepared to take another step in his career, and when he was invited to become secretary to the new Central Committee on Postgraduate Education he accepted with enthusiasm, becoming secretary to the Council in 1967. He had contributed to the development of postgraduate education from the time of the first Oxford Conference and was anxious that the administrative machinery should be effective. His loss from the Oxford region was keenly felt but he gained new friendships which he greatly valued. He retired in 1975.

In 1951 Jof had married Alison, daughter of John Lawson who was a merchant banker. It was a second marriage for both of them and they made a family home and farmed at Chiselhampton, near Oxford. They had two daughters and Alison had two children - a son and a daughter — by her previous marriage. Early happiness at Chiselhampton was marred by the tragic death of Alison’s son who was killed at the age of 14 when the tractor he loved to drive overturned. This accident caused great sadness but they later spent many happy summer holidays in Spain where they had a villa near Marbella, and Jof acquired the ability to relax in that wonderful climate. He would have wished to be remembered for his home life and family as much as for his professional life of distinction and success. He was a kind and generous man who attributed much of that success to his family and to his colleagues. He helped everyone around him to flourish and prosper.

ER Rue

[Brit.med.J., 1978, 1, 723; Lancet, 1978, 1, 619]

(Volume VII, page 141)

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