Lives of the fellows

Rupert Desmond Charles Johnstone

b.5 June 1907 d.14 March 1987
MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1939) MRCP(1940) MD(1942) FRCP(1966)

Rupert Desmond Charles (Hec) Johnstone’s first choice of career was the Army. He was educated at Wells House, Malvern Wells, and Malvern College, and entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, as a gunner. He was duly commissioned and had the distinction of being selected for the equitation course at Weedon before being posted to his regiment. But Army service in peace time did not suit him; he resigned his commission in 1930, learnt Arabic, and went to the Sudan to grow cotton. There he indulged what were to become his lifelong interests in natural history, fishing, shooting and riding. However, this life gave him no sense of fulfilment and he returned to the United Kingdom to study medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, and so found his true vocation.

‘Hec’ was the second son of John Eccles St George Johnstone, a Gloucestershire general practitioner, and his wife Geraldine, daughter of a barrister. He graduated from St Thomas’s in 1939, gaining his MRCP and MD while holding house appointments at the hospital. With the outbreak of the second world war, he rejoined the Army as a medical specialist RAMC, serving in a field hospital in Nigeria and at the 37th General Hospital, Accra, where he met his future wife, Sheila, who was herself then serving as a physiotherapist. On returning to the United Kingdom he was posted to Colchester Hospital and later worked on malarial research in London until demobilization.

In 1947 Hec was appointed Burton on Trent’s first consultant physician and in 1948, with the coming of the National Health Service, he laid the foundations of what is now a comprehensive medical unit. Until he retired in 1972 he served the hospital with distinction and devotion. He was meticulous in pursuit of diagnostic accuracy and all that benefited his patients and, although at times his manner may have seemed militarily brusque and forbidding, he had a caring and sensitive nature and a discerning intellect. The hospital and his patients profited much from his foresight, energy and drive, and many house physicians had cause to remember him with gratitude and affection.

His heavy clinical commitments did not prevent him from serving for many years on the hospital management committee, before the days of the district health authority, and he was for some time chairman of the consultants’ advisory committee. In the early days of the NHS his common sense and wise counsel proved invaluable. Subsequently, with others, he made a notable contribution to the creation of the graduate medical centre and after retirement continued to be concerned with its activities as chairman of its committee.

His marriage to Sheila, in 1946, was a happy one and he was devoted to his family. They had two children, a son and a daughter. He was a keen gardener, a fine shot, and had a full and productive retirement until advancing emphysema limited his activities. He was survived by his wife and children; his son is also a doctor.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
V Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1987,294,981]

(Volume VIII, page 245)

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