Lives of the fellows

John (Sir) Revans

b.7 June 1911 d.4 November 1988
KT(1977) CBE(1967) MBE(1943) MRCS LRCP(1935) DCH(1946) MRCP(1964) FRCP(1969) LLD Southampton(1970) FRCGP(1974) OStJ(1947)

John Revans was born in Birkenhead, on the southern side of the Mersey estuary, at the height of Liverpool’s maritime influence. His father, Thomas William Revans, was a prominent naval architect and a council member of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects. Indeed it could be argued that John himself was a consequence of a maritime engagement as his mother, Ethel Amelia Charlotte, née White, was the daughter of a master mariner.

John was educated at Battersea Grammar School and the University of London, and received his undergraduate medical training at the Middlesex Hospital. At the age of 24, he married Eileen Parkhurst Mitchell, and almost at the same time took up his first medical appointments as house physician to the neurological and children’s departments, and house surgeon to the orthopaedic department at the Middlesex.

He was a young man of much ability and with much to prove. Instead of seeking advancement and experience within the safe confines of his own country, John took up a commission with the Indian Medical Service and in 1936 was appointed medical officer to the 1st Battalion 2nd King Edward’s Own Gurkhas. He became civil surgeon to the Roorkee and Saharnpur areas of the United Provinces in 1937.

With the onset of war John found himself in the thick of things. Between 1940-43 he was staff captain HQ and graded physician at the 11th Indian General Hospital. He was mentioned in despatches in 1941, during western desert operations in Egypt, and was later promoted to major. He became a member of the Order of the British Empire (Military Division) in 1943, and was further promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel on the war staff of the India Office in London. In 1946 he was appointed an officer of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, being demobilized from the Army with the rank of colonel.

Almost as soon as he had retired from the Indian Medical Service, as staff surgeon at Poona, John began a second - and perhaps even more distinguished - medical career. In 1947, with the exciting prospect of a national health service about to become a reality, John took on the challenging appointment of assistant secretary to the British Medical Association. His talents were quickly spotted by the then fledgling service and John was chosen to become the South West Metropolitan regional hospital board’s assistant senior administrative medical officer. The region stretched from central London down to the borders of Devon, and it became clear that a sub-office was necessary in Wessex to coordinate the management of the southern part of the region. John Revans took up this challenge enthusiastically and, in due course, piloted the separation of the Wessex region from the South West Metropolitan region, setting up the headquarters in Winchester. It was a small region and had no medical school but this was all to change, largely as a result of the efforts of John Revans with the University of Southampton. A new medical school was founded and quickly developed a reputation for its progressive approach towards the training of doctors, using all the hospitals in the region. Revans was the region’s first senior administrative medical officer and, following the reorganization in 1974, he led the team as regional medical officer for its first two years as a regional health authority. The region profited well under him and had a reputation for progressive educational policies and economic services.

John Revans undertook a wide variety of other duties for the NHS. He was a member of the central midwives board and of the Salmon committee, and did much work to further the development of nursing and rehabilitation services. He also found time to carry out work for the Nuffield Provincial Hospitals Trust on sterilising practices, vocational training for GPs and postgraduate medical education.

During the 1960s he was adviser to the Royal Commission on Health, Newfoundland, and carried out work for the World Health Organization.

He received his CBE in 1967 and, although he retired as regional medical officer to the Wessex regional health authority in 1976, he was knighted for services to medicine and the NHS in 1977.

He married Eileen Parkhurst Mitchell in 1935 and they had two daughters, and later two grandchildren. Although professional commitments meant a heavier than usual workload, he still managed to devote time to his personal interests in sailing and steam trains. It was sad that he was not able to enjoy fully his retirement on account of the stroke he had suffered. He will be remembered throughout the region as the ‘Father of Wessex’, and for his kindliness and humour, expressed through a fund of stories ‘.. .out of India.’


[, 1988,297,1399,1538]

(Volume VIII, page 408)

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