Lives of the fellows

John Bissill Heycock

b.14 November 1915 d.22 August 1992
TD(1955) MC(1942) MRCS LRCP(1939) MRCP(1946) DCH(1947) FRCP(1969) BA Open Univ(1988)

John Heycock was born in Motihari, India, where his father was in the Indian Civil Service. His mother Maude Benedicta, née Whistler, was the daughter of Webster Whistler, a minister in the Church of England. Following preparatory school at Hawtrey’s, John went on to school at Stowe. He studied medicine at the University of London, taking his clinicals at St Thomas’ Hospital. After qualification, his first post was as a clinical assistant in obstetrics and venereal disease at St Thomas’, followed by a house surgeon appointment at the West Kent Hospital, Maidstone.

With the advent of war, he joined the Army and was commissioned in the 8th Royal Irish Hussars, serving as battalion medical officer with the ‘Desert Rats’ in North Africa. He was mentioned in despatches in 1940, and in 1942 was awarded the MC for gallantry in battle. He was reputed to have made service history by being medical officer to the same unit throughout the whole six years of the war. On demobilization he maintained his interest in the Army and joined the Territorials, where he reached the rank of colonel. He was the last commanding officer of the 149th Durham Field Ambulance (TA).

After the war, he returned briefly to St Thomas’ and obtained his membership of the College, and in 1946 he began a career devoted to children. After a period as registrar at the Hammersmith Hospital, he was appointed chief assistant to the children’s department at St Thomas’. He was later attracted to the north of England by the reputation of James Spence, later Sir James [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.386]. After two years as registrar to Spence he was appointed a consultant paediatrician in Sunderland, where he spent the rest of his career. He swiftly gained the trust and respect of local general practitioners, who sought his advice on behalf of their own children as well as for their patients.

His skill, gentleness and patience with babies and children contrasted dramatically with his handling of cars - it is reputed that he learned to drive in a tank in North Africa and considered the streets of Sunderland to be the desert, and his succession of large cars to be armoured vehicles. He was also pugnacious and determined as a campaigner in a variety of important issues. Under his leadership, the Sunderland Children’s Hospital became the focus of child care in Wearside and in the surrounding area. He started a children’s casualty department which survives as a model. He took his duties as a clinical lecturer very seriously and he was an enthusiastic teacher of both students and postgraduates in the University of Durham department of child health, later to become the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Although often described by his junior staff as being difficult to work for, he nevertheless inspired great loyalty in them and many went on to inflict his daily midnight ward round on their own juniors. In spite of an exceptionally busy workload he managed to undertake clinical research and was the author of many important papers on common paediatric problems.

Although never tolerant of those who did not aspire to his own high professional standards, he was a staunch supporter of many causes and a loyal friend. He was chairman of the Sunderland Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and a very active member of the St John Ambulance, becoming area commissioner in 1973. He was an officer of the Order of St John and on retirement in 1980 he became chairman of Durham County Fellowship.

He married Inez Mekrise McMurray, daughter of a radio officer in the Merchant Navy. At the time of their marriage she was his houseman. They had six children, four of whom are doctors - two being Members of the College. Throughout his life, John was an active sportsman. He played golf, tennis, squash and racquets, After retirement he took to golf seriously and his persistence was remarkable. His mind also remained very active and he was immensely proud of his Open University BA, awarded in 1988.

A W Craft

[Brit.med.J., 1992,305,1360]

(Volume IX, page 232)

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