Lives of the fellows

John Callis Hawksley

b.30 November 1903 d.14 April 1993
CBE(1946) MRCS LRCP(1926) MB BS Lond(1928) MD(1930) MRCP(1930) PhD Birm(1933) FRCP(1939)

Born in Great Yarmouth, John Hawksley was the son of Joseph Hawksley, a civil engineer in an East Anglian water company, and his wife Louisa Jane Callis, whose father was a Sheffield journalist. He was educated at Dulwich College and on deciding that he wanted to study medicine, after toying with the idea of a legal career, he entered University College and graduated from University College Hospital. After a short spell as a ship’s surgeon, he held research posts at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital before becoming Sebag Montefiore research fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. He later worked for a year in Copenhagen, holding a Bilton Pollard travelling fellowship from UCH It was during this time that he met Margaret, daughter of Engineer Vice-Admiral Sir Reginald Skelton KCB, who became his wife and also established a career as a distinguished anaesthetist. She was an essential support in the whole of his life.

In 1936 he was appointed assistant physician at University College Hospital and physician in 1940. He also became honorary physician to St Peter's Hospital for Stone. In 1939 he took up a temporary commission in the RAMC and his war service was distinguished by a mention in despatches during the course of three years work in the MEF and by the award of the CBE(Mil) at the end of his last appointment as consultant physician to South East Asia Command; much of his responsibility here involved overseeing the rehabilitation of RAPWI (Recovered Allied Prisoners of War and Internees) in Java.

His early work had encompassed rheumatic disease as well as gastroenterology but he was essentially a general physician whose deep commitment, thoroughness of approach and fund of commonsense, were recognized when he returned to UCH to develop a gastroenterological service - and they also brought him a busy private practice. Later, these same qualities led to his election as dean of UCH medical school, 1949-54. As a Fellow, he served the College well, becoming senior censor and vice-president, 1966-67. He was always very keen on promoting women in medicine and he must have been delighted when one of his early house physicians became the first lady president of the College.

John was a shy and self-contained man who was not easy to get to know unless there was a shared interest in either mountaineering or music. He knew the Alps intimately - possibly stimulated by his aunt who was a pioneer member of the Ladies’ Alpine Club - but he climbed further afield as medical officer on several occasions and at one time as leader of the British Schools Exploring Society’s expeditions to Spitzbergen and elsewhere in the Arctic circle. Music was of immense importance to him, being reflected in regular chamber music with his family, all talented instrumentalists, and sometimes with medical colleagues. He played the bassoon with great enthusiasm and competence and also possessed a contrabassoon - unusual for an amateur musician. He had always had a strong interest in ornithology and lepidoptera, which he had characteristically studied in depth, but all these were not enough to help him cope with retirement in East Kennet after his wife, Peggy, died in 1985. From 1987 he was cared for at Pencombe Hall in Herefordshire, sustained in his declining years by visits from his four children and by his musical memories.

J F Stokes

[Brit.med.J., 1993,307,498-9;The Daily Telegraph, 12 June 1993]

(Volume IX, page 229)

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