Lives of the fellows

James Balfour Kirk

b.7 April 1893 d.26 March 1984
CMG MB ChB Edin(1917) DPH Oxon(1921) DTM&H(1922) MRCP(1933) FRCP(1942)

Balfour Kirk was born at Falkirk and lived to the age of 90. He was educated at George Watson’s College and Edinburgh University, and like so many of his generation of medical students joined the Army, in the ranks, as a combatant at the outbreak of war in 1914, before being sent back to complete his medical training in 1917 and then rejoin the RAMC. After the war he took a DPH and the DTM&H and joined the Colonial Service as MOH of Port Louis, Mauritius. He rose to be director of medical services in Mauritius and was transferred to the Gold Coast (Ghana) as director in 1941. He served with UNRRA in Greece, and later in Germany, and was awarded the CMG. On retiring from the Colonial Service he joined the Ministry of Health and served there until 1962.

Balfour became a member of the College in 1933 and a Fellow nine years later. He had a broad knowledge of medicine and a clear, succinct way of expressing it. He was a patient and valuable reviewer and collator of drafts in the Ministry of Health; abilities which were used to the full in the editing of its medical publications, including the CMO’s annual report On the state of the Public Health and the special reports then known as ‘Grey Books’, which ranged from reports on maternal deaths to the testing of very young handicapped children by Mary Sheridan. He succeeded Alison Glover, also a Fellow [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.l52], in this work.

He was used as a confidant and adviser by colleagues at all levels without ever becoming a partisan of any particular group, or a passer-on of anyone else’s opinions, no mean achievement in that kind of cloister. Balfour ran the Monthly Bulletin of the Ministry and the Public Health Laboratory Service, which became the forerunner of Health Trends.

Balfour was a shrewd, laconic Scot with a lively sense of humour. He was physically active, regularly playing five holes of golf before breakfast - on the course which was at the foot of his garden in Surrey -and then walking the mile and a half from Victoria to the office in Saville Row. He gardened, was something of a gourmet, an expert on wines, and a carenil but assiduous operator in the stock market.

He had married on qualification in 1917; a marriage that lasted the rest of his life. He enjoyed 22 years of his second retirement till his death in 1984.

Sir George Godber

[Brit.med.J., 1984,288,1769]

(Volume VIII, page 262)

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