Lives of the fellows

William Johnson

b.3 September 1885 d.15 Mar 1949
MC(1916) MB BS Lond(1908) MD Lond(1911) MRCS LRCP(1908) MRCP(1912) FRCP(1926)

William Johnson, son of William Edward and Lizzy Jane (née Parry) Johnson, was born at Wrexham, North Wales. He attended Grove Park School, Wrexham, and matriculated at London University in 1902. Guy’s Hospital was his training school; his deep affection for it never lessened. Of his several residential posts there, that of house physician to Dr (later Sir Arthur) Hurst had a special influence on his career. A close friendship sprang up between teacher and pupil and continued up to Sir Arthur’s death. One early result was Johnson’s interest in neurology. Appointments as Gull student in pathology at Guy’s for two and a half years and demonstrator in morbid anatomy enabled him to widen his knowledge of general pathology, and especially of neuropathology. In 1912-13 he worked for periods of three months under Professor Déjerine at La Salpêtrière, Paris, and under Professor Edinger at Frankfurt am Main.

In World War I Johnson was commissioned in the R.A.M.C, and served with a Field Ambulance in France from September 1914 to June 1917. He was awarded the Military Cross in August 1916 for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Subsequently he was appointed neurologist in charge of an Army centre for psychoneuroses in France—an office which he held until the end of the war. As a consequence of this special experience the War Office appointed him one of the two authors responsible for the chapter on neurasthenia and war neuroses in the History of the Great War, Medical services : diseases of the war, 1923, 2, 1-67).

During 1919 Johnson continued his studies in neurology as chief clinical assistant to Dr (later Sir Gordon) Holmes in the outpatient department of the National Hospital, Queen Square, London. In March 1920 he was appointed assistant physician and neurologist to the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool, and in 1921 elected to a similar post at the Royal Liverpool Children’s Hospital. These appointments were the basis of his successful career as a consultant physician with special interest in neurology. His competence both as clinician and teacher in the Liverpool University Medical School was quickly recognised. Subsequent University appointments included the posts of lecturer in clinical medicine (1921-45), lecturer in clinical paediatrics (1935-45), and chairman of the faculty of medicine for the session 1943-4.

Additional posts were consulting physician to the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Mossley Hill, and physician to the Liverpool Eye and Ear Infirmary and to Birkenhead Municipal Hospital. He served also as examiner in medicine to the Universities of Durham and Liverpool, and to the Conjoint Board (London). He was a pioneer of the movement which in 1938 led the four general teaching hospitals of Liverpool to merge and become the Royal Liverpool United Hospital, and in 1948 was appointed the first chairman of the Liverpool Region Children’s Hospitals Management Committee. At the time of his death he was president of the section of neurology, Royal Society of Medicine, and president-elect of the 1949 International Neurological Congress in Paris. At the College he was a Censor, 1946-7.

Johnson was, as a colleague wrote, ‘one of those solid, wholly dependable characters of whom it could be said that ""they maintain the fabric of the world, and in the handiwork of their craft is their prayer"".’ Although by nature an outstandingly kind and considerate man, who weighed carefully the opinions of others, he could be surprisingly obstinate and uncompromising on any matter which tested his loyalty or his convictions, but his gentle courteous nature brought him the affection and respect of patients and colleagues.

Johnson had married Miss Margery Denbigh in 1923; they had three daughters and one son. One daughter became a physician, and another a trained nursing sister.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1949, 1, 593; Lancet, 1949, 1, 589 (p); Times, 17 Mar. 1949.]

(Volume V, page 217)

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