Lives of the fellows

John Quested Matthias

b.23 May 1924 d.16 July 1998
MB BS Lond(1947) MRCS LRCP(1947) DA(1949) MRCP(1953) FFA RCS(1954) MD(1965) FRCP(1972)

John Quested Matthias was a consultant physician with an interest in cancer, especially in the anaemias associated with malignancy. He was born in Monmouthshire. His father was a building contractor and his mother, Florence Mary, was the daughter of Frederick Stock, a farmer and businessman. He attended St Julian’s High School for Boys in Newport.

John entered St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School in 1942, qualifying MRCS LRCP and MB BS in 1947. After a number of junior house appointments in East Anglia he held house appointments at Hammersmith and Brompton Hospitals. His first intention was to make a career in anaesthesiology, but he always maintained his interest in medicine, passing the membership examination of the College in 1953.

The eventual direction that his career took was, however, the result of his appointment as resident in medicine at the Memorial Center for Cancer and Allied Diseases at Cornell University, New York. On returning to England he became senior registrar to Sir Ronald Bodley Scott [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.521] at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. This hospital was becoming a leading centre for the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease and leukaemia. John was responsible for setting up the first laboratory there wholly devoted to cancer research, established alongside the wards caring for cancer patients.

He was interested in all aspects of cancer medicine, but particularly anaemia, and his 1965 London University thesis on the anaemia of cancer, demonstrating the similar nature of the haemolytic anaemias which complicate different malignancies, was a major contribution to the understanding of this complication. The treatment of hypoplastic anaemia was very unsatisfactory at that time and he and others attempted the novel approach of giving foetal haemopoietic cells in order to avoid rejection. Although none of the cases convincingly showed engraftment, the study was of considerable technical and theoretical interest.

It was probably as a result of his anaesthetic training that he had such an excellent grasp of pharmacology and therapeutics. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject which resulted in his being called ‘The Key’ by Gordon Hamilton-Fairley [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.215]. When asked the origin of this epithet Gordon jokingly replied: ‘Why, the key to all knowledge of course!’. John realised the increasing importance of a proper training in pharmacology and as good undergraduate and graduate texts on the subject were lacking, he joined with Hugh-James Galbraith [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.187] and Ronald King to produce a book on Practical therapeutics (London, Lloyd-Luke, 1962). John made a number of important contributions to the literature on haematological malignancy.

From 1962 onwards he started to be appointed to a number of consultant posts, notably at the Royal Marsden Hospital, St Mark’s Hospital and the Prince of Wales Hospital. He mostly treated patients with cancer. As a physician who was concerned with the best care for the individual, he tended to be out of sympathy with the idea of rigid protocols for trials of therapy. His services were much in demand and in addition to an honorary senior lectureship at Bart’s he had sessions at the Royal Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead and St Ann’s, Tottenham.

He was elected a Fellow of the College in 1972. By this time he had devised a punishing routine for himself which caused a deterioration in his health. Fortunately with his wife’s care he recovered and devoted himself to a less demanding private practice, with appointments as consultant physician to Private Patient Plan, to the Civil Service Commissioners, the Royal Masonic Hospital and the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth.

He was a lively and amusing companion. Always immaculately dressed, he combined an air of authority with a kindly approachability much appreciated by his junior staff - a chuckle and a rapid elevation of his eyebrows being the only response to some of our more inane therapeutic suggestions on ward rounds.

He married Elizabeth, daughter of William Leuchars, in 1967. This happy marriage provided a home for their two daughters, Alison and Louise, who, with Elizabeth, supported with him through his terminal illness.

James Malpas

(Volume XI, page 386)

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