Lives of the fellows

John Vernon Hurford

b.30 March 1906 d.3 March 1988
MB BCh BAO(1929) MD(1935) DPH(1935) MRCP(1936) FRCP(1950)

John Hurford was born in Dublin, of English parents. His father, Arthur Lionel Hurford, was a civil servant, and had served in the Indian Army, and his mother was the daughter of Ivan Henry Herford, an Army officer. John was educated at Campbell College and Queen’s University, Belfast, from where he graduated with honours, obtaining the gold medal in surgery. From 1930-31 he served as extern surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, and for the next three years he worked in general practice in order to support his widowed mother. After her death, he moved to Winsley Sanatorium from where he obtained the diploma in public health, and in 1935 he was awarded his doctorate with commendation. Membership of the College followed in 1936 and he was elected a Fellow in 1949.

To John’s great disappointment, his ardent desire to do military service during the second world war was officially frustrated by his reservation. In 1939 he became assistant physician to William Snell at Colindale Hospital, and for a short period was seconded to Highwood Children’s Hospital. He was subsequently appointed consultant physician to Ealing Chest Clinic, and in 1949 he was appointed physician superintendent at King George V Hospital. This was the large sanatorium near Godalming, administered by the London County Council (later the Greater London Council) as a main treatment centre for pulmonary tuberculosis. He served in that post until the closure of the hospital in 1971. During the period 1949-71 the chest clinics serving the Farnham, Camberley and Aldershot areas were amalgamated and successfully administered under his able supervision.

John Hurford was closely involved in research and administration as well as clinical practice, and was honorary secretary to the British Tuberculosis Association from 1943-47. In 1946 he was the prime mover in the formation of the Association’s research committee, to which he was honorary secretary. With his staunch support, this committee played a leading role in the rapid diagnostic and therapeutic advances taking place. For some years he was a member of the joint tuberculosis council which ably advised the Ministry of Health on the development of the chest diseases services. In all these offices his outstanding ability in committee was widely recognized and respected.

His methods in the treatment of chest diseases were all encompassing, extending beyond purely medical management to include developments in occupational and art therapy. He always had a full appreciation of his patients’ personal problems which inevitably arose in the long term care of tuberculosis. Being an enthusiastic amateur painter himself, King George V became one of the first hospitals to adopt the principles of art therapy, originated in the early 1940s by Adrian Hill at Midhurst. He also supported the latest developments in occupational therapy. He was well aware of the importance of respiratory physiology in the diagnosis and management of chest diseases and he pressed for and built one of the first laboratories for respiratory function studies in the hospital.

Hurford was a kind disciplinarian, who ensured that his hospital was a happy place for both his patients and his staff; his concern was not only for the care of his patients but also for the welfare of all the hospital staff, and he took part in many hospital social activities. He captained the hospital’s tennis team, and was no mean Thespian in the annual pantomimes of which he was usually part author.

As well as his talent for painting in oils, his leisure interests were wide, embracing literature, music and drama. He had a particular interest in the works of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope, a special love for the music of Bach and Mozart, and he greatly enjoyed the classical theatre.

At the outbreak of war, when they were both medical officers at Highwood Hospital in Essex, he met his beloved wife Olive, the daughter of Francis James Browne, professor in obstetrics, and sister of J C McClure Browne. John himself was the great-grandson of Anthony Todd Thomson [Munk's Roll, Vol.IV, p.29]. Olive and John were married in November 1939. She was able to continue her career, and she faithfully encouraged her husband in his dedication to his vocation. Latterly she devotedly sustained and cared for him during a prolonged period of failing health. They had two children, a son and a daughter, and they have respectively pursued successful academic careers in science and letters.

One of John Hurford’s colleagues writes ‘...he was an example of honesty, uprightness, open-mindedness and helpfulness. His knowledge was encyclopaedic though in his modesty he never paraded it. My admiration is truly boundless.’

John gave his advice generously and freely and he surely left his mark as a physician, widely regarded as having made a significant contribution not only in the battle against tuberculosis but also in the building of the modern approach to the diagnosis and treatment of thoracic disease.

GM Little
LJ Rowley

[The Times, 17 Mar 1988; Brit.med.J., 1988,296,1204]

(Volume VIII, page 237)

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