Lives of the fellows

John Stobo Prichard

b.16 May 1914 d.3 December 1986
MC(1941) MRCS LRCP(1938) MB BChir Cantab(1938) MA(1939) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1966) FRCPC(1972)

John Stobo Prichard was born in Barry, Wales, and trained in England and the United States, but spent most of his medical career in Canada. His father, Thomas Preece Prichard, was a solicitor. His mother was Ethel Jane Frazer Andrew.

John Prichard was educated at Clifton Preparatory School, Clifton College and Cambridge University, where he took his MA and MB BChir, completing his medical undergraduate training at the London Hospital which he left to join the RAMC in 1939. In the same year he married Joan Suzanne Webber, daughter of Sir Robert John Webber. Prichard served in England, and later with the Eighth Army in Africa and Europe. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery under fire.

After demobilization, he trained at the National Hospital, Queen Square, and in 1949 left England to spend a year in Boston at the Massachusetts General Hospital on a British travelling fellowship. He then went to Toronto, Canada, in 1950, as the first full-time neurologist on the staff of the Hospital for Sick Children. There he began a career which spanned 35 years of dedication, of excellent teaching and, for his students, years of excitement and fun.

Students and Fellows came from across the world to study at the Hospital for Sick Children under Stobo Prichard. They included neurologists who now practise in Japan, Indochina, Micronesia, Australia, India, Africa, Europe, and both North and South America. Wherever he travelled with his wife Joan, they visited old friends and were warmly welcomed.

At the Hospital for Sick Children he established the electroencephalography service, he inititated the combined neurological-neurosurgical rounds, he persuaded the administration that neurological patients would be better served on a single, dedicated ward, and he encouraged the establishment of an active research programme in neurosciences.

The provincial ministries of health, of community and social services and of education, in the province of Ontario, frequently sought his opinion and his help in the development of programmes covering problems as diverse as special education and mercury poisoning of native peoples in the north. He entered these tasks with enthusiasm. He cajoled his colleagues into helping, and he accomplished much good which can never be found in a simple reading of his curriculum vitae.

One of Stobo’s great concerns as a physician was the plight of the intellectually handicapped and their families. He played a major role in the development of Surrey Place Centre, the major institution, and in the establishment of their medical services. When he retired from the position of divisional chief of neurology at the Hospital for Sick Children in 1977, he did not actually retire but moved laterally and established the child development clinic, and also the very successful learning disabilities research programme.

Nationally and internationally he was an active member of many scientific societies of neurology and electroencephalography in the role of founding member, president or journal editor. His efforts culminated in 1975 with the founding of the International Child Neurology Association. He became the first president of that organization and directed its first international congress in Toronto. He was also the founding editor of the International Review of Child Neurology.

While spending his active career in his profession, Stobo also managed to raise three exceptional children: Jane, with a doctorate in education from Harvard, is on the staff at the University of British Columbia, Sarah has a fellowship in medicine and is on the faculty at McGill University, and Robert, who has a host of degrees in business and law, is now the dean of law at the University of Toronto. The children were brought up on the same kind of challenges that Stobo normally handed to his students and colleagues. They were expected to think independently, to challenge dogma and to defend their positions. Dinner time at the Prichard household was a special time, well remembered by all who attended. Stobo would drop an apparently casual comment about any subject, political or ethical but always topical, and he then expected everyone to participate in a debate which he would often stimulate by taking a seemingly indefensible position. Joan’s excellent cuisine, and Stobo’s equally welcome martinis, provided a base for long and remarkable discussions. No one was allowed to sit and observe.

On a personal note, I owe thanks to Stobo for encouraging me to enter a career in science when I was a half-trained paediatrician. When my family and I returned to Toronto, after an absence to complete postgraduate studies, Stobo was there to ask us to dinner, to support my efforts in setting up a laboratory and to encourage me in those first nervous steps of a new investigator on his own. His kindness and help made my early career much easier, and his continued advice was always welcome. Like all his colleagues, I miss him.

JA Lowden

(Volume VIII, page 391)

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