Lives of the fellows

John Joseph Yelverton Dawson

b.5 February 1917 d.24 March 1993
OBE(1990) MC(1945) MRCS LRCP(1941) MB BS Lond(1941) MD(1948) MRCP(1950) FRCP(1972)

John Joseph Yelverton Dawson was born in Cosham, Hampshire. He was the eldest of six children of a Church of England clergyman who had come from a medical background and his mother Sybil née Emerson was the daughter of a physician. The family moved to Nottingham but John received his early education at King’s College, Taunton, one of the Woodard schools. He had a distinguished school career, becoming captain of cricket and head of school. He went on to King’s College Hospital, London University, to study medicine and also played cricket and rugger for the University.

After qualification and a six months house post he went straight into the RAMC and served in the Far East for two years with Para No 1 Commando. He was involved in one of the key battles in Burma, where there were many killed and wounded, and was awarded the Military Cross in the field at the Battle of Kangaw. He was demobilized in 1946. He then wished to see the results of the war in Europe and joined UNRRA, working with refugees in France and Germany for about a year. This experience clearly affected and influenced him deeply and on return to London he entered the London School of Economics to study sociology and politics with a view to understanding some of the questions raised by the second world war.

After six months he decided to return to hospital medicine and in January 1947 he became a ‘demob houseman’ at King’s, where he worked for Terence East [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.157] the distinguished cardiologist, who had been taught to play the piano by Elgar. In 1953 he moved to the Brompton Hospital where he worked as a registrar and later as first assistant. One of his house physicians at that time was Margaret Turner-Warwick, later Dame Margaret and president of the College 1989-92. He returned to King’s as senior registrar, working with Clifford Hoyle [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI I, p.279] and publishing on sarcoid.

In 1955 he was appointed to Plymouth as a consultant in chest medicine, where he was mainly involved in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis at a time when long term chemotherapy was being introduced. He was subsequently seconded by the MRC, in conjunction with WHO, to be director of the TB Chemotherapy Centre in Madras, India. There he was involved in a long term clinical trial using streptomycin, PAS and isoniazid; work which showed the value of long term chemotherapy for pulmonary TB.

He returned to Plymouth as a general physician in 1964 and played his full part in pioneering the new treatments, which involved a great expansion in bed numbers. In 1971 he participated in the setting up of a general intensive care unit and, together with an anaesthetist, revisited the Brompton Hospital. This led to the installation of the Brompton Hospital system in the Plymouth ICU in 1972.

In 1948 he had married Joan Daphne, daughter of Sir Joseph Baker. There were four children of the marriage; a son and three daughters. At the age of 59, following the breakdown of his marriage, he retired from the NHS and went to work at the Shisong Mission Hospital in Bamenda, Republic of Cameroon. He was primarily involved in hospital work but soon found himself taking on emergency surgery and other tasks. Later he became concerned with the setting up of rural clinics for primary health care and maternity and child health. He very much enjoyed this part of his work and remained at the hospital for 14 years. He received an award from the Cameroon government before he returned to the UK to receive an OBE from the Queen in March 1990.

By this time his spiritual life had grown and he was keen to pursue a further role as a counsellor. He spent 18 months at the Institute of Pastoral Studies, St Ignatius Loyola University, Chicago, USA. He was much influenced by the work of Jung and that of St John of the Cross, and revelled in being back at university with other students. After his return to the UK he lived with his married daughter in Bristol and worked for Network, a Bristol based ecumenical Christian counselling centre for people with psychological problems. He felt that he was able to give them the time which other busy professionals were unable to spare.

He also felt that many busy professionals, because of the nature of their work, spent much of their time being too busy and he would advise that they should ease back from time to time and reflect upon where they were going, giving some time to their spiritual development. He also wondered whether senior colleagues should give more guidance along these lines to their juniors. John approached his final illness with great tranquility as befitting his strong religious belief.

M T Inman

[Brit.med.J.4993,307,56]

(Volume IX, page 124)

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