Lives of the fellows

John Stewart Lawrence

b.5 May 1908 d.6 May 1996
MB ChB Edin(1930) MD(1938) MRCP Edin(1943) FRCP(1968)

As an epidemiologist and director of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council field unit at Manchester University John Lawrence conducted extensive research on the occurrence and causes of the major forms of arthritis.

He was born in Brechin, Angus, Scotland and educated at Perth Academy, Edinburgh Academy and then Edinburgh University. He went on to clinical studies at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, completing house physician posts at the Heart Hospital, Liverpool and at East Ham Memorial Hospital. In 1939 he was appointed as a RMO at Lewisham Hospital, and later St Nicholas’ Hospital, and was then offered the post of medical registrar at Herts and Essex Hospital. From 1941 to 1945 he served in the emergency medical services. In 1946 he became a consultant physician at Herts and Essex Hospital. From 1947 he worked as a medical specialist, first at Innsworth RAF Hospital and then at Droughton RAF Hospital.

In 1956 he was appointed to the post of director of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council field unit at Manchester University. Together with J H Kellgren, the first of professor of rheumatology in the UK, Lawrence surveyed local populations in Leigh and Wensleydale, showing for the first time just how common oesto-arthritis was. Finding there was a wide variation in the interpretation of X-rays, Kellgren and Lawrence sort to rationalize the grading of arthritis, producing a standard which remains the only internationally agreed system in common use. Lawrence went on to establish a link between obesity and arthritis and to study the role of genetics in determining the occurrence of the disease. Lawrence resigned as director of the unit in 1968, but continued his research. In 1977 his monograph, Rheumatism in populations (London, Heinemann Medical), summarized his lifelong contribution to the study of arthritis.

He married twice; to Ethel Clarke in 1933 and to Ingle Wright in 1973. He had two daughters from his first marriage. In his latter years he developed Parkinson’s disease.

RCP editor

[The Independent, 14 May 1996]

(Volume X, page 294)

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