Lives of the fellows

John St Clair Elkington

b.19 June 1904 d.21 January 1963
BA Cantab(1925) MA Cantab(1928) MB Cantab(1928) MRCS LRCP(1928) MRCP(1930) FRCP(1934)

Jack Elkington was born at Newport, Shropshire. He was the younger son of Dr Ernest Alfred Elkington, a general practitioner, and of Annie Isabella, daughter of Dr William Edward Baddeley, another general practitioner. As one of a large family, Jack was fortunate in having so fine an intellectual endowment as to be able to provide for nearly the whole of his own education. From Adam’s Grammar School, Newport, he won the senior scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1922.

For his clinical training, he entered St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School with a University scholarship, and won the Mead medal and the Toller and Wainwright prizes, and there he held all his junior appointments up to medical registrar. In 1930 he was appointed Murchison scholar of the College, and as a neurological career had by now long been his aim he took a resident post at the National Hospital, Queen Square, before his appointment to the Fearnsides scholarship of Cambridge and to the honorary staff of St. Thomas’s Hospital in 1932. In 1937 he joined the staff of the National Hospital. The whole of his subsequent career was devoted to these two hospitals and to the Royal College of Physicians.

Throughout the war Elkington served in the Emergency Medical Service. He became a Censor of the College in 1954 and Lumleian lecturer in 1958; he was the Senior Censor at the time of his death. He made a number of special contributions to neurological literature, notably on disease of the intracranial vessels, the subject of his Lumleian lectures, but was best known as an outstandingly lucid bedside-teacher of both undergraduates and post-graduates, who shared the burden of the work of busy out-patient departments with every junior and used unobtrusive supervision and example as his chief mode of teaching.

His registrars and residents never felt isolated or obliged to deal only with dull, routine cases. By temperament he was a clinician of the old school with a distrust of investigations which could not be shown to serve the best interests of his patient. He may sometimes have appeared to be intolerant of modern scientific methods, but nevertheless was always generous in his acclaim of useful, but humane research by his younger colleagues.

Always fearless in stating his opinions, he could influence the conclusions of a committee by the forceful clarity of his speech, although this power could be disconcerting, if he had not been properly briefed or his intervention was ill-timed. His house in Montagu Square absorbed much of his leisure. He liked to be surrounded by objects of beauty; everything had to be perfectly arranged and had not on any account to be moved without his permission.

He entertained with generosity, but with the formality of a perfectionist, with the result that while his friendship with the young was an abiding quality his natural reserve made it difficult for him to reveal himself in his fullness to his contemporaries.

On holiday he chiefly travelled alone. The central and eastern parts of the Mediterranean were his favourite field. There he deliberately underwent a sea-change, wearing old clothes and a rucksack, and staying in little known hotels, so that those who knew him at home might scarcely recognise this voluntary scholar-gipsy. On the other hand, when he visited foreign countries on medical business, he preserved very carefully the elegant, precise, distantly courteous image of the accomplished London physician. He did not marry.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1963, 1, 336 (p); Lancet, 1963, 1, 278 (p); St. Thom. Hosp. Gaz., 1963, 61, 89-91 (p); Times, 22, 24 Jan. 1963.]

(Volume V, page 116)

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