Lives of the fellows

James Findlay Dow

b.1911 d.24 September 1983
BA Cantab(1932) MB BChir(1936) MRCP(1938) FRCP(1948)

James Dow’s connection with St George’s Hospital spanned almost forty years and there is no doubt that he exerted a major influence over the Hospital and the School, becoming for many people a very special friend.

He was born in Glasgow, educated at Strathallan School and St John’s College, Cambridge, receiving his medical training at the Middlesex Hospital, and graduated in 1936. After house appointments at the Middlesex and Brompton, he was appointed resident assistant physician at St George’s in 1939; an appointment which was to mark the beginning of a lifelong association. During the war years, in the absence of many physicians who had Service commitments, or EMS obligations at sector hospitals outside London, James Dow found himself virtually running medicine at St George’s, with a heavy load of ward, outpatient, and teaching duties. It gave him the opportunity to exercise his outstanding administrative skills and under his direction St George’s continued to function smoothly through the ‘blitz’. He also had occasion, later in the war, to organize the medical support for the surgical teams sent to Cosham, near Portsmouth, to receive casualties from the D-day beach head invasion. Mercifully, casualties were few and James found time to do some teaching, at which he excelled, and to enjoy a little relaxation in the sun on the nearby beaches. At that time bombs were falling on his battle scarred colleagues at Hyde Park Corner, which led to the famous telegram: ‘From the trenches of Hyde Park we salute the heroes of Cosham! ’ — much to James’s amusement.

In 1946 James was appointed honorary assistant physician at St George’s and, after two years of National Service in the Army, settled down to pursue his medical career. He was soon in great demand for he had an extraordinary clinical acumen, a deep knowledge of medicine in general and gastroenterology in particular. He was a superb teacher and remained a wise and valued friend to his junior staff in their later careers, being one of the most sought after medical opinions in London. He was compassionate and caring with his patients, who in turn recognized that they were in safe and sympathetic hands.

Having kept St George’s afloat during the war years, his talents were now employed in the development of the new St George’s Hospital. Together with a few of his colleagues he had the vision to see that the future of the hospital lay elsewhere than Hyde Park Corner: a teaching hospital ought to function as a general hospital serving a large and varied population. In 1950, James Dow moved his firm to the Grove Fever Hospital, Tooting, and rapidly established a first class medical and gastroenterological unit there. Reluctantly, and with some self-sacrifice, he returned to Hyde Park Corner when some medical units had to be sent back there to facilitate the building of the new medical school at Tooting. It was a sad and frustrating time for him for by then the hospital at Hyde Park Corner was in its death throes. However, as chairman of the medical advisory committee James Dow guided the hospital safely through its many difficulties, and his wisdom, foresight and fairness proved inestimable in making this committee an effective administrative tool. He also served St George’s as a member of the board of governors and as one of the special trustees.

James Dow loved internal politics; he was a great schemer and his schemes were nearly always winners. He was a brilliant committee man and a great hairman, with an invaluable gift of timing. A brief intervention from him nearly always cleared the air and led to a decision. He was indeed so much a part of St George’s that it was particularly sad when his deteriorating health made it impossible for him to attend the 250th anniversary celebrations of the Hospital, held at Westminster Abbey.

St George’s was James’s first love, but he also served Wimbledon Hospital, was chairman of the medical committee of King Edward VII Hospital for Officers (Sister Agnes), and an examiner in medicine at Cambridge and the College. He was adviser to the London Life Assurance, and a member of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland.

In his younger days James was a great sportsman, being captain of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School rugby team and a good all rounder at golf, cricket and squash. In later years he was especially fond of fly fishing. He loved good food and wine, and the company of his friends and family, for he was a devoted family man. His first marriage ended tragically with the early death of his wife Moira, who left him with an infant daughter. His second wife, Jean, a consultant radiologist, survived him, as did their four children, one of whom is a medical graduate.

J Bamforth
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

[, 1983, 287, 1386; Lancet, 1983, 2, 1096]

(Volume VII, page 161)

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