Lives of the fellows

John Marshall Ledingham

b.13 February 1916 d.8 September 1993
BSc Lond(1936) MRCS LRCP(1942) MRCP(1947) MB BS Lond(1948) MD(1951) FRCP(1957)

Behind Jack Ledingham’s lean and somewhat donnish exterior lay a remarkable range of qualities which made him a leader and exemplar in both teaching and research as well as an outstanding physician. He was born in Epsom, Surrey, the son of Sir John Ledingham, a distinguished microbiologist and a director of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine. He was educated at Whitgift School and University College London, where he took first class honours in physics and mathematics. He then switched to medicine, but simultaneously undertook research with A V Hill in biophysics. Following his preclinical studies at University College, he moved for clinical training to the London Hospital medical school, from where he qualified. After house posts at The London, he joined the RAMC and served in France, India and the Middle East. Later, because his potential as a research worker had already been recognized, he was seconded to the Ministry of Defence biological research station at Porton, Wiltshire. Despite his paternal origins he was more attracted to the work in experimental hypertension then being developed by Clifford Wilson and colleagues in the newly established academic unit at his old medical school. In 1948, in a move which was to determine the rest of his career, he joined Wilson’s unit at The London as a junior lecturer and remained there all his professional life; becoming successively lecturer, senior lecturer, reader (1953), professor of experimental medicine (1964) and finally, on the retirement of Clifford Wilson, professor of medicine (1971). He held the latter post until his retirement in 1982.

Jack Ledingham was principally known for two qualities - his insight and compassion as a physician and medical teacher, and his major contributions to the understanding of the pathogenesis of experimental hypertension. He obtained the University of London gold medal in 1957 for his MD thesis on the role of the kidneys and adrenal glands in experimental hypertension, and he was one of the first to describe and elucidate the hypertension seen in nephrectomized animals, recognizing the role of disordered water and electrolyte metabolism. He went on to investigate an elusive role played by the heart in the initiation of the condition and his original ideas in this field were the starting point for much research by himself and others. In 1969 he led a British Council delegation to the Soviet Union to establish contact with scientists working on similar problems.

Ledingham was a professor of medicine at a time when academic medicine was expanding into many special fields and he led the way by nurturing new specialities in his own department until they were ready for independence. Many people now working in the academic unit at The London owe their origins to Jack’s vision. Though legends abound about his insistence on detail and the precise formulation of problems, the real quality which shone through was his transparent kindness to patients, to his students and to junior staff. His scientific contributions and judgement were recognized by his chairmanship of the editorial board of Clinical Science and his presidency of the section of experimental medicine and therapeutics at the Royal Society of Medicine. He served as a censor at the College from 1974-76 and was in great demand as a teacher and examiner both at home and abroad.

He met his wife Jo Metcalfe in India during the war and they married in 1950. Their contrasting and complementary personalities made them valued and engaging friends; where Jack was serious minded, orderly and reserved, Jo was warm, lighthearted and outgoing. They had two sons, one of whom is also a Fellow of the College and holds a chair in clinical medicine.

R D Cohen

[, 1994,308,406; The Independent, 21 Sept 1993;The Daily Telegraph, 28 Sept 1993]

(Volume IX, page 311)

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