Lives of the fellows

Edmund Neville Mitchell Johnston

b.21 April 1915 d.31 August 1993
MRCS LRCP(1942) MB ChB Cantab(1942) MA(1943) MRCP(1954) FRCP(1974)

Neville Johnston was the son of James Thomas Mitchell Johnston, roadway contractor, and his wife Elsie Muriel née Wearing. He was born at Coulsdon, Surrey, and educated at Old Hall School, Wellington, Salop, where he was head boy, and at Tonbridge School, where he was head of house. From 1937-39 he took instruction in missionary training and school teaching at Swansea Bible College and later served as a member on the Archbishop of Wales’ committee for the administration of the Bryn Mal Home. He studied medicine at Cambridge University, achieving first class honours in anatomy in the natural sciences tripos; his clinicals being taken at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London.

After qualification he was appointed house surgeon and casualty officer at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. In 1943 he joined the RNVR, serving as surgeon lieutenant in HMS Lothian, a landing ship on a two-year mission round the world. From 1946-47 he was MO to the WRNS units in the London area. On demobilization he became a supernumerary registrar in the skin department at Bart’s and following this introduction to dermatology he was appointed house physician to the skin department of the West Middlesex Hospital in 1948. From 1949-54 he worked as house physician and then medical registrar to K D Keele [Munks Roll, Vol.VIII, p.253] at Ashford Hospital, Middlesex, and subsequently completed his dermatological training as registrar and senior registrar to Geoffrey Dowling [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI I, p.163] at St Thomas' Hospital. They remained lifelong friends.

In 1960 he was appointed consultant dermatologist to the Mansfield and District General Hospital, and to Nottingham General Hospital and its group. At Mansfield, previously run from Nottingham, he found little but outpatient sessions in existence and he set about creating a proper department of dermatology despite the opposition of some senior colleagues to such a newfangled idea. He realized that the quality of his department would depend more on the training and dedication of the staff than on the convenience and location of beds so, with patient and genial persistence, he infiltrated the less favoured geriatric site obtaining a unit of five male and five female beds, a PUVA machine and other facilities. With his charm, caring expertise and charisma, he had little difficulty in recruiting and retaining an utterly devoted nursing staff. It is not exaggeration to state that he was revered by both staff and patients. He was also well liked by his consultant colleagues for his benign and helpful manner, and respected for his expertise in his specialty.

Although a man of independent means, he eschewed a dilettante approach to the work in the clinics and wards but showed little interest in medical politics or for office in the many medical societies of which he was a member. He soon made a name for himself by the quality of the cases he presented at the clinical meetings and by the thoroughness of his investigations. He was sparing in the work he submitted for publication, preferring subjects linking dermatology and general medicine which remained a lasting interest for him. In 1964 the British Journal of Dermatology published his pioneering work on the therapeutic use of Dapsone in erythema elevatum diutinum, and in 1965 he and Roy Summerly [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.487] jointly wrote a paper on the ‘Progress of Raynaud’s disease after sympathectomy’. In 1969, with P D Samman (q.v.), he wrote a paper describing the nail damage associated with the handling of Paraquat and Diquat, which was published in the BMJ.

At the Nottingham combined skin tumour clinics he regularly demonstrated his remarkable talent for detailed clinical observation, which made him the envy of his colleagues. He originated ‘Johnston’s stretch sign’ to define the extent of basal cell carcinomata and, with the opening of the Nottingham University medical school, he shared in the teaching of clinical dermatology and offered a wise and mature approach to a difficult subject. When the British Association of Dermatologists held the annual meeting in Nottingham, in 1978, he took the chair at one of the major sessions and used his wide experience to stimulate the discussion; at the clinical meeting he presented a remarkable series of rare cases. He also took a keen interest in the medico-legal aspect of dermatology and appeared in many of the courts on the Midland Circuit as an expert witness. The opinions he expressed were always well founded and scrupulously fair, invariably lacking in any personal or professional animosity.

Neville married Margery Ann Pittman (Penny) in 1958 and found great and enduring happiness with her and their two sons. They entertained their many friends in their lovely house, Hagg Nook Farm, in Newstead Abbey Park, where he farmed a small estate. He spent happy weekends either driving his young family to the beaches of Cornwall or west Wales, or working on his land. From time to time he would appear in the department with a bandaged hand, or a foot in plaster, having been savaged by one of his agricultural machines. He read widely m dermatology, general medicine, and contemporary politics; played golf to a handicap of seven and went shooting occasionally. He retired in 1979 and they moved to another lovely house, West Lodge, in Southwell Minster Close, and it pleased him that he could walk through his garden into the Minster Precinct to attend evensong. Unhappily, this golden ending to his life’s work was short lived. Penny fell ill and died after a long illness in February 1985. Devastated by his great loss, Neville sought solace in his brother’s house and ended all contact with his many friends in Nottinghamshire. His last years were spent in a retirement home at Merstham, Surrey.

P D C Kinmont

(Volume IX, page 277)

<< Back to List