Lives of the fellows

John Douglas Pickup

b.31 May 1915 d.27 August 1977
MB ChB Leeds(1939) MD(1945) DCH Lond(1945) MRCP(1975) FRCP(1976)

Douglas Pickup was the only son of the Reverend Holden Pickup, a distinguished minister of the Methodist Church, who had roots going back to the beginnings of Methodism in North East Lancashire. Great firmness of principle, fearlessness in witness, joy in natural things and love of walking were common to father and son. His mother also was a child of the Manse and had grown up in the Isle of Man in an atmosphere of ‘plain living and high thinking’. Their influence upon their son determined his later unselfish involvement in pastoral concerns, through the Pontefract Micklegate Church and the considerable honour of circuit stewardship. Characteristically, Douglas Pickup then out-distanced his associates in unsuccessful attempts at Anglican/Methodist conciliation, and was in even greater isolation in advocating an amalgamation between his own and the rival Methodist Church in Pontefract! Like the puritan General Waller, he might well have said of himself ‘Where my conscience is interested all other obligations are swallowed up’.

Douglas Pickup went from Bradford Grammar School to study medicine at Leeds University, qualifying shortly before the second world war and soon volunteering for service with the RAF, mostly in the Middle East. Returning to his parents’ home in Silsden he married Mary Fletcher, from a distinguished local family of manufacturers, and vigorously resumed his career in paediatrics, firstly at the end of a long, rich clinical era with Wilfred Vining, and then as lecturer, from 1946 for five years, helping WS Craig create a University department and introduce into Leeds the wider concept of paediatrics and child health.

An appointment to become the first district paediatrician responsible for a wide area centred upon Wakefield, Pontefract and Dewsbury came in 1951, and called for remarkable powers of organization in addition to a clinical load which would seem unbelievable a generation later. Gradually, with new consultant appointments, his paediatric work concentrated upon Pontefract, where he was chairman of the Medical Advisory Committee and postgraduate tutor. In this role he promoted a splendid postgraduate centre (1970), which now bears his name.

An indifferent letter writer and uncommonly slow to put pen to paper, Douglas Pickup was a talker of Johnsonian dimensions, equally at ease in general conversation, in committee or on the lecture platform. At times he appeared to have a relative by marriage or best friend in the chair of every relevant administrative body around Leeds, and even in death he shared a single page of obituary in the BMJ with his life-long friend, AA (Joe) Driver, formerly SAMO to the then Leeds Regional Hospital Board. An authoritative chairman, totally lacking in pretension, he was genial but business-like, combining trenchant views with a refusal to compromise on issues of principle.

Few contemporary physicians can have had lives which overflowed more extensively into other fields. A naturalist, he was president of the Yorkshire Naturalist Trust, past president Yorkshire Naturalists Union, founder member and at one time president of the Castleford Naturalist Society and, what was particularly dear to his heart, chairman of the advisory committee to Fairburn Ings Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve. Douglas Pickup was a dedicated bird-watcher and was elected to the Council of the RSPB in 1976 to represent Yorkshire interests. He paralleled his church activities by being an enthusiastic Rotarian, serving as president of the Pontefract Club 1973/74 and delighting meetings with ornithological slide displays, made possible by anticipating nearly every conceivable local difficulty in projection.

When elected to membership of the British Paediatric Association in 1959, Douglas knew few colleagues outside the Leeds region, but was quickly a familiar figure with close friends via fly fishing, hill climbing, watching marshland birds or the nocturnal activity of badgers. A member of BPA Council 1972-75, he was predictably co-opted to the executive committee to provide an authoritative peripheral viewpoint. Retiring prematurely in 1976 to allow more opportunity for non-medical activities, he was faced almost at once with an oesophageal malignancy and began a protracted defiance. His wife, Mary, the sister of Richard Fletcher FRCP, survived him with their son and daughter, and they respectively provide links with natural history and medicine.

His memorial must surely be the Fairburn Ings bird sanctuary. There during twenty years of wardenship, either en route for his next hospital or domiciliary visit or at the end of the day, Douglas might be found welcoming visitors, reporting intruders, protecting and shaping for the future. Who else but he could have successfully established natural beauty alongside pit heads, giant chimneys and the Great North Road?

RJ Pugh

[, 1977, 2, 898; Lancet, 1977, 2, 619]

(Volume VII, page 467)

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