Lives of the fellows

John Maurice French

b.20 April 1911 d.30 June 1990
MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1939) DTM&H Liverp(1940) PhD Birm(1949) MD(1951) MRCP(1957) FRCP(1967)

John Maurice French was born at Burgh Heath, Surrey, where his father was a general practitioner. His mother, Dorothy Brodie, née Ford, was the daughter of a barrister. He was educated at St Anselm’s School, Surrey, and Tonbridge School, Kent. Before deciding to study medicine he began his working life as a brewer with a first class certificate from the City of London Institute and Guilds of Brewing. In 1931 he published a paper entitled ‘Colorimetric estimation of the preservative value of hops using uranium acetate’. He subsequently entered Guy’s Hospital, University of London, to study medicine.

After graduation and junior appointments at Guy’s, he became mobile anaesthetist and casualty officer at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford (EMS), and in 1940 entered the Indian Medical Service on an emergency commission. He was officer in charge of the medical divisions of various hospitals between 1942-46, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. It was at this time that he became fascinated with the aetiology of tropical sprue and it laid the foundation for a career devoted to research. He saw service in India, Burma and Iraq before returning to England in 1947.

His first postwar appointment was as research fellow in the department of pharmacology, University of Birmingham, under A C Frazer [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.186], an authority on fat metabolism, and he later became reader in the department of medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. His original contributions included radiological studies of the small intestine, the effect of gluten-free diet on adult coeliac disease (then called idiopathic steatorrhoea), absorption of fat and other substances in the small intestine, the cause of the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome and porphyrins in faeces. Research can be carried out by filling up forms for others to do it, but Jack did it for himself.

He knew every technical detail of his personal laboratory and was often seen in the corridors of the hospital carrying cans of faecal fat balances himself, for his expertise was sought widely by colleagues whose patients he investigated. He was likeable and modest and had a ready sense of humour; his kindness to so many - from porter to consultants and patients - went unnoticed and was unrelated to self-interest. He was Mackenzie Mackinnon Research fellow of the College from 1955-58 and a member of the External Scientific Staff of the Medical Research Council from 1958-62.

In 1939 he had married Kathleen Mary, daughter of Robert Taylor, a farmer, and they had a son and three daughters; his son is a general practitioner in Vancouver, Canada. Edward Brodie French, John’s brother, is a Fellow of the College, living at St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly. Outside his work John’s interests lay in fishing, sailing, farming, entomology, horticulture and philately. He was survived by his wife Mary and their four children.

C F Hawkins

[Brit.med.J.1990,301,438;Guy's Hosp. Gazette, Nov 1990,189]

(Volume IX, page 185)

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