Lives of the fellows

James Holmes Hutchison

b.16 April 1912 d.27 December 1987
CBE(1971) OBE(1945) MB ChB Glasg(1934) FRFPS(1937) MRCP(1938) MD(1939) FRCP(1947) MRCPE(1957) FRCPE(1960) FRCPG(1962) FRSE(1965) Hon FACP(1968)

James Hutchison was born in Rangoon. He came to Glasgow with his parents when he was eight years old, received his schooling at Glasgow High School, and proceeded to Glasgow University where he graduated with commendation at the age of 22. After residencies in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Western Infirmary in Glasgow, and St Luke’s Hospital in Bradford, he was awarded a McCunn research scholarship in 1936. His work on tuberculosis in children during the three year tenure of that scholarship formed the basis of an MD thesis for which he was awarded honours and a Bellahouston gold medal.

From 1939 he served for seven years in the RAMC, in France with the British Expeditionary Force, in the United Kingdom, Algeria, Italy, and Austria, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel and latterly commanding a medical division. He was awarded the OBE (military).

On demobilization he was appointed assistant physician to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and the Royal Maternity Hospital in Glasgow, and in 1947 was appointed physician in charge of wards at the RHSC - a prestigious and accelerated appointment in the Glasgow medical structure - at the early age of 35. This appointment he combined with an academic appointment to the Gow lectureship in the University of Glasgow and private paediatric practice. In 1961 he was appointed to the Samson Gemmell chair of child health as professor and head of department, and also became consultant to the Queen Mother’s Hospital. During his 16 year occupancy of the Glasgow chair his department was productive in research and in influencing the development of improved standards of child care despite the fact that during much of that time the Glasgow RHSC was being rebuilt and the temporary accommodation in which it was housed was far from ideal. He also made an early and significant contribution to the developing branch of paediatrics, community paediatrics, by establishing within his department a social paediatric unit.

In research James Hutchison maintained his interest in childhood tuberculosis while this disease was still a major cause of childhood morbidity and mortality, and his bronchoscopic studies did much to elucidate primary tuberculous disease of the lungs. He later turned his attention to hyperthyroidism, which was endemic in certain tinker families in the West of Scotland, and his studies with E M McGirr demonstrated the metabolic basis of a number of these inherited disorders.

He was an excellent undergraduate and postgraduate teacher in the lucid didactic mould. His single author textbook Practical paediatric problems, London, Lloyd-Luke, first published in 1964, became a standard text in many departments. It had reached its sixth edition, now co-edited with his successor F Cockburn, by the time of his death.

Retiring from the Glasgow chair in 1977, Hutchison immediately accepted an invitation to become professor of paediatrics in Hong Kong. He served there for three years with great distinction. His academic ability, his qualities of leadership and the loyalty which he attracted, did much to upgrade the Hong Kong department and at the same time to improve the links between Hong Kong and Britain.

Of Jim Hutchison’s many outstanding qualities perhaps the most impressive was his competence as a committee chairman. His effectiveness was based on an excellent memory, a firm grip of essentials, a willingness to listen to reasoned and logical argument but not verbosity, a natural air of authority and an acute sense of time. These qualities put him in great demand as a medical statesman. In Glasgow he was president of the Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society, president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, and dean of the faculty of medicine. Nationally, he was president of the British Paediatric Association, president of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, chairman of the MRC working party on childhood leukaemia, chairman of the Scottish Health Services Council and chairman of the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He was awarded the CBE in 1971, but many felt that that did not adequately recognize his contribution to medicine and society.

Personally, Jim Hutchison showed unshakable loyalty to his family, friends and colleagues. His friendship was deep and compounded of trust, responsiveness, a keen appreciation of the qualities and contributions of others, and a great sense of humour. He was devoted to his wife Ness, and to his family, and in his dealings with them a very gentle man indeed. He and Ness were delightful hosts. In his department he was something of a disciplinarian but he applied discipline more strictly to himself than to anyone else. Despite the enormous amount of professional and administrative work he undertook, he never seemed in a hurry and always had time to take on any new commitment which he considered his duty. His weekly round of golf and Saturday evening dinner with his wife in the Royal Automobile Club were important relaxations.

I last saw him on 14 December 1987 when he knew his life was ebbing fast. Characteristically he had worked out the final programme. He wished to die at home, he wished to see Christmas with his family, but he did not wish to burden his family much beyond that. He died on 27 December.

JO Forfar

[Brit.med.J., 1988,296,365,1476; Lancet, 1988,1,132; The Times, 1 Jan 1988]

(Volume VIII, page 239)

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