Lives of the fellows

William Peter Uprichard Jackson

b.22 March 1918 d.5 November 1992
MB BChir Cantab(1942) MRCP(1943) MD(1947) DCH(1948) FRCP(1961)

Peter Jackson - ‘Pete’ to his many friends - was born at Tettenhall, Staffordshire, the son of William Uprichard Jackson, a business man, and his wife Alice Hope née Fellows. He was educated at Wrekin College and studied medicine at the University of Cambridge, pursuing his clinicals at The London Hospital, Whitechapel. Like so many of his generation, his career was interrupted by the 1939-45 war and he served m the RAFVR as a flight lieutenant and acting squadron-leader from 1943-46.

On demobilization he spent a year as resident medical officer at the Royal Masonic Hospital and in 1947, after obtaining his MD and DCH, he was appointed assistant physician to the Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham. In 1949 he decided to accept a one-year contract as assistant to the professor of clinical medicine at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and that same year he married Dorothy Mary née Cockerill, the daughter of a farmer.

It was in South Africa that he became actively involved in research work on endocrinology and diabetes. He distinguished himself in these activities, decided to remain in Cape Town, and took up a permanent appointment. His first two housemen were Bill Hoffenberg (now Sir Raymond) and David MacKenzie, who no doubt played some role in his decision. In 1953 he was awarded an Eli Lilly research fellowship, which allowed him and his wife Dorothy to spend a stimulating and productive year in Boston, USA. On his return to Cape Town in 1954 he was appointed director of the UCT/CSIR endocrine and diabetes research group and he continued in this capacity until 1980, during which time it became a UCT/MRC research unit.

His research on diabetes focused on pre-diabetes, especially in relationship to pregnancy, and on the epidemiology and genetics of diabetes. He was a pioneer investigator on the epidemiology of diabetes in different races -work that stimulated considerable interest worldwide. Calcium metabolism, especially calcium absorption and resistance to vitamin D, was another area in which he made important contributions. His work on inter-sex and chromosome abnormalities was done at the dawn of understanding of sex chromosomes and their relation to gonadal differentiation.

His intellect and active research work stimulated many colleagues to undertake collaborative work with him and he was a catalyst for many young researchers. His work resulted in the publication of more than 300 articles, several invited book chapters, four books on diabetes and a book on calcium metabolism and bone disease. He was honoured with many awards including an Upjohn scholarship from the United States Endocrine Society, a Royal Society traveling fellowship, research grants from the USA Public Health Service, a fellowship from UCT and ad hominem promotion to full professor.

Peter was also active in professional societies and organizations and he was co-founder, with the late Jack Brock, of the Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of Southern Africa, of which he ultimately became president and life president. He held the vice-presidency of the International Diabetes Federation and was elected to the All-India Institute of Diabetes. He was an invited speaker/chairman at many international conferences and symposia and a visiting professor to many medical centres around the world.

He was, in many ways, an eccentric. His teaching rounds were enlightened by pertinent anecdotes and reminiscences; he relished accounts of some of his more remarkable patients but was never unkind. He accepted that the world was full of strange people with unusual modes of behaviour and that everyone had their own particular place in it.

After his retirement, he continued to work in the diabetic clinic and in the pregnancy diabetic clinic. He was an active member, fellow, and ultimately vice-president of the Royal Society of South Africa and he took great pleasure in becoming the editor of the Society’s proceedings in the late 1980s, being responsible for the production of several excellent volumes.

One of his most important activities outside medicine was his interest in nature. His contribution to botany in the Cape made him a legend in his lifetime. A superb photographer, his books on the wild flowers of Table Mountain, and of the Fairest Cape, stand as a testimony to his tenacity and perfectionism. In 1982 he embarked on a BSc degree in botany at the University of Cape Town - which he obtained with honours; to the delight of his many classmates, teachers and friends. He wrote two books on the derivation of flower names and was also president of the Botanical Society. When he was no longer able to walk on his beloved mountains, he started drawing and painting flowers which resulted in a series of increasingly beautiful works.

In earlier years Peter Jackson was an enthusiastic squash player. He founded the Groote Schuur Squash Racquet Club, became president of the Squash Racquet Association at the UCT and was co-founder of the Western Province Squash Racquet Association.

He was fortunate in his wife Dorothy who provided him with the support and encouragement that enabled him to reach his full potential and she remained stalwart throughout his long and difficult illness.

S Benatar

[S.A.med.J., 1993,83,73-74]

(Volume IX, page 264)

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