Lives of the fellows

Peter Machin Jeavons

b.29 May 1920 d.17 March 1997
MB BChir Cantab(1945) DPM(1949) MRCP(1971) FRCPsych( 1971) FRCP(1980) Hon DSc Aston(1984)

As a consultant at Dudley Road Hospital, Birmingham, Peter Jeavons established a reputation as the ultimate opinion in the West Midlands on the epilepsies and their EEG correlates. After Stowe School and St John’s College, Cambridge, he went to the United Birmingham Hospitals for his clinical training. An early interest in psychiatry led to his appointment as a neuropsychiatrist during his National Service in the RAF. He completed his training at All Saints’ Hospital, Birmingham, where, nine years after qualification, he became a consultant psychiatrist and deputy medical superintendent.

But his interest was soon diverted into what was then the relatively new field of electroencephalography. He went to the Burden Neurological Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital, studying under Sir Denis Hill [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.264].

He had found his métier. Leaving clinical psychiatry, he set up an EEG service and laboratory at All Saints’ and later Dudley Road Hospital, Birmingham and, realizing the importance of combining clinical and EEG work, he started his own epilepsy clinic. He soon had a deserved reputation throughout the West Midlands as a wise opinion on difficult cases of epilepsy.

An intriguing area of research emerged when he joined Brian Bower, then a lecturer in the department of paediatrics, in a study of the then unfamiliar epilepsies of infancy, in particular ‘infantile spasms’. A monograph in 1954 described the clinical, EEG, pathological and other features of a large group of these patients and the effects of treatment with corticotrophin. Long-term follow-up studies were subsequently published.

His other major research project was on photosensitive epilepsy and for thirty years from 1964 he and his colleague, Graham Harding of the University of Aston, studied over a thousand cases - the largest group anywhere in the world. The role of television and other forms of photic stimulation were analysed and the effect of different forms of therapy monitored in the laboratory. For this work he was awarded an honorary DSc and a personal chair at Aston.

When sodium valproate was introduced for the treatment of the epilepsies he initially used it extensively but further use produced a more balanced judgement.

Peter was a modest and gentle man with a great gift for friendship. A well-developed sense of humour combined with wide interests made him an attractive companion. He was a generous host with an extensive knowledge of food and wine. He enjoyed travel, some of it for invited lecture tours. Perhaps he took greater pleasure in quieter hobbies: natural history, painting, fishing, and above all gardening, where his knowledge was considerable.

His family meant much to him. His wife, Patsy, was a fellow student who shared his enthusiasm for botany and painting. They had two sons, one of whom predeceased him.

Brian Bower

[The Times, 27 Mar 1997; Brit.med.J., 1997,315,432]

(Volume X, page 259)

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