Lives of the fellows

John Vernon Davies

b.22 March 1914 d.19 January 1991
MB BS Lond(1939) MRCP(1941) MD(1943) FRCP(1971)

Vernon Davies died from a severe asthmatic attack. He had suffered from asthma all his life and ironically was regarded as an authority in this field.

He was born in Swansea, the son of David Davies a mining engineer. His mother was Mary Jean née Morgan, of farming stock. Vernon was educated at Gowerton Grammar School, near Swansea, and won a scholarship to University College Hospital, University of London, to study medicine. His undergraduate career was hampered when he developed pulmonary tuberculosis but this did not prevent him from representing University College in rugby football. After graduation he was house physician to the professorial unit at UCH, house physician at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore, and later house physician at the Brompton Hospital in 1940. Promotion to assistant resident medical officer at the Brompton followed in 1941, and in 1942 to resident surgical officer at the Brompton EMS unit, Epsom. In the latter appointment he developed an interest in the surgical treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, which he subsequently had to undergo himself.

From 1943-44 he was resident assistant physician at the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith and during this appointment he was responsible for starting the Hammersmith chest clinic. He was a member of the pneumoconiosis panel in Swansea from 1945-46 and during the following year he was resident assistant physician at St Helier Hospital, Carshalton. In 1948 he was appointed consultant chest physician to the North Middlesex Hospital and took over premises in a double-fronted house in Fore Street, Edmonton, which had been one of the first ‘sheltered workshops’. There he established the Edmonton Chest Clinic. At the same time, he was involved in the development of the North East Metropolitan Surgical Centre with the late Michael Bates FRCS. In 1960 he was able to transfer his clinic to the North Middlesex where he established a large and very active department; this included one of the first allergy clinics, followed in 1965 by a clinical physiology department - the first outside a teaching hospital.

Vernon Davies published little but encouraged and greatly helped younger people in their researches. His department took an active part in the trials of antibiotics in chronic bronchitis. His interest in allergy, and his encouragement of others to investigate this field, no doubt stemmed from his own and his family’s history. Later his department was active in the field of exercise physiology both in patients and top-class athletes.

During the war he was not accepted for active service on health grounds but he certainly saw active service during the ‘blitz’ when the Brompton was a casualty clearing station under his direction. In this work he was ably assisted by the redoubtable hospital Sisters O’Grady and Weaver, who it was said could ‘... devour six housemen for breakfast.’ Vernon could do no wrong in their eyes; his calm efficiency and inability to panic were an inspiration to all These two ladies held him up as a shining example to succeeding generations of housemen.

Vernon married Myrtle née Brierley, daughter of a civil engineer, in 1942. They had one son, Peter, born in 1944. He showed great promise academically but died tragically like his father, from a severe asthmatic attack soon after taking up a scholarship to Oxford in 1964. Despite the tragedy in their lives and Vernon’s disability from an extensive thoracoplasty just after the war, and other chest problems, he and Myrtle led a very active social life. They were both keen bridge players, gardeners and sailors.

Vernon's extensive knowledge of chest medicine and its history was an inspiration to all. He was an excellent teacher but never offered an opinion unless asked. During his working life he was known to lose his temper only once, over a difference with a colleague who it is recorded did not submit easily to authority - namely, Reg Francis [Munk s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.164]. The cause of the disagreement is not known but it is generally accepted that Vernon was in the right.

He retired from active practice in 1989 but continued to work part-time in his old department at the North Middlesex until aged 70, when he and Myrtle finally retired to Devon. There he was far from idle; he took a course at the Open University and learnt to play the piano to further his interest in music. He also became more active as a bridge player and yachtsman. He was a calm, unassuming and gentle man, whose quiet exterior hid a keen Welsh sense of humour.

E N O'Brien

(Volume IX, page 118)

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