Lives of the fellows

John Carey Gilson

b.9 August 1912 d.1 December 1989
CBE(1967) MRCS LRCP(1937) MA MB BChir Cantab(1937) MRCP(1940) FRCP(1957) FFOM(1979)

John Gilson was a big man both in physique and in character. He was educated at Haileybury, Caius College Cambridge and the London Hospital, where he qualified in 1937. During the war he served in the RAF Physiological Laboratory in Farnborough because of his interest in respiratory physiology. He was responsible for developing oxygen masks that gave improved flow. He was also aware of the problem of ill-fitting clothes and did a very beautiful anthropological study to improve matters. In 1946 he joined the MRC pneumoconiosis unit in Cardiff and became director of the unit in 1952.

His own particular interest was the development of highly efficient instruments that could be made to measure lung function in field surveys and with the cooperation of A L Cochrane [Munks Roll,Vo 1.VIII, p.95] did many surveys to establish incidence and severity of pneumoconiosis in coal workers. On his initiative, the x-ray classification of pneumoconiosis was standardised and the reference films are used to this day. He worked up an exceptionally broad and successful multidisciplinary unit including clinical medicine, chemistry, physiology, epidemiology, dust physics, statistics, radiology and experimental pathology, and was one of the leading figures in the development of the discipline of occupational respiratory disease.

He was an enthusiastic man and an ideal leader, giving his staff a free hand while keeping a benign level of control over them. He retired from directorship in 1976 when he turned his attention to helping industry in the broadest sense. He became scientific adviser to the Joint European Medical Research Board and was associated with asbestos work, mineral fibres, china clay industries etc., and despite a certain amount of ill health he continued to work until the day before he died.

He married Margaret Evelyn Worthington, daughter of a surgeon, in 1946 and they had two sons and a daughter. His hobby was domestic engineering and he loved the very beautiful house in Devon that he had helped to build. He was widely travelled, much respected and much loved.

G S Kilpatrick

[Brit.med.J., 1990,300,531-2;The Lancet, 1990,335,219; The Times, 4 Dec 1989; The Guardian, 14 Dec 1989, MRC News, Mar 1990,46,45]

(Volume IX, page 197)

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