Lives of the fellows

John Leonard Seymour

b.3 January 1934 d.30 June 1991
MB BS Queensland(1957) MRCP(1961) FRACP(1975) FRCP(1983)

John Seymour was a cosmopolitan and a scholar. Born in Brisbane, the eldest child of Dorothy, nee Spencer, and John Seymour, barrister at law, he was a clever student, graduating from St Joseph’s College, first in his class of 1951. In 1952 he began his medical studies at the University of Queensland on an élite open scholarship and graduated in 1957 with high distinction in medicine and surgery, winning the William Nathaniel Robertson memorial medal and the Harold Plant prize, the gift of the British Medical Association for the class leader of each year.

From 1958-60 he worked mainly in the medical service of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Brisbane, proceeding to London in 1961 and successfully achieving his membership of the College later that year.

In British medicine of the ’60s John quickly found his academic, spiritual and cultural home and passed eight of his happiest and most productive years in the UK. The imprint of those years of closely reasoned clinical analysis and attention to the paramountcy of physical signs and patient well being moulded him forever in the best traditions of the British clinical school. He worked at the National Heart Hospital from September 1961 to November 1964, moving up the grades from assistant RMO to RMO, and finally to registrar. In 1962 he worked in the cardiac department of the Brompton Hospital. From 1964-68 he was senior registrar to the cardiac department at the Middlesex Hospital.

In these formative years he worked with and was befriended by Paul Wood [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.456] and Walter Somerville, Wallace Brigden and Richard Emanuel, to name but a few. He was elected to the British Cardiac Society and published papers on various cardiac subjects in the British Medical Journal, The Lancet and the British Heart Journal eg: absorbic acid on digitalis effect in the ECG, lipoprotein lipase levels and platelet stickiness in ischaemic heart disease, studies on aortic valve closure, acquired pulmonary stenosis, and Propranolol to control atrial fibrillation in valvular heart disease. In 1968 he was a contributor to the third edition of Paul Wood’s Diseases of the heart and circulation, London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1968.

During these years he continued to read broadly and deeply and cultivated his taste for the theatre and ballet. The English way of life spread like nacre over the colonial grit and, although he never lost his energy or forthrightness and disdain for pomposity, his acquired polish and suavity allied with a not inconsiderable histrionic talent made him a formidable antagonist in disputation.

His British connection was strengthened by his sister, living in Wimbledon, and even after taking up exile in Australia he maintained a pied a terre in Chelsea and made an annual pilgrimage to London to renew and refresh himself. After so long as an expatriate the calls of family and home became more pressing, but his feelings were still ambivalent enough to allow him to spend a year as a research fellow at the Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California Medical Center, San Francisco, in the department of Malcolm Mcllroy.

In 1970 John returned to Brisbane and began a busy life as a clinical teacher and consultant cardiologist to several hospitals, and an ever growing private practice in Wickham Terrace. He worked at the Prince Charles and Repatriation Hospitals, and for many years before his recent retirement was senior visiting cardiologist to the Princess Alexandra Hospital. He played a major role in the development and organization of the cardiac service of that institution. For many years he served on the medical advisory committee of the National Heart Foundation of Australia and he was chairman of the Queensland regional committee of the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand until he was succeeded by his brother Richard in 1990.

His dedication to and delight in cardiology shone through his every word and action. His nimble tongue, ready wit and formidable histrionic talents made him an entertaining and lively teacher. His views were clear and strongly held. Underlying his astringent style there was a great personal benevolence, especially towards the young.

From his mother he inherited a well merited consciousness of his own worth. He was elegant in dress and speech, but used a Rabelaisian hilarity to pour scorn on the pompous and self-opinionated. He had above average procedural skills and drove fast and sophisticated automobiles with élan. He was, like George Nathaniel Curzon, a most superior person. His sharp and flexible mind ensured that he remained, as he began, a doctor’s doctor rather than a patient’s doctor - even in the autumn of his days.

John was in many ways a complex and contradictory character. He would mock himself by expressing delight at having graduated in the local repertory theatre from a spear-carrying to a speaking part, all the while complaining how the late nights in the Green Room interfered with the working life of a man of his maturity. At one stage he had a whimsical urge to play the squire at Minden, Queensland, and had an hilarious hobby farm which sheltered a pampered menagerie including a geriatric cow called Mu, a heifer Pushy Mum, and a couple of stupid ducks named Percy and Ronnie. Two charismatic pigs were called Lawson - the sow - and Edwina, the boar - sic ! The water closet door was decorated by a large picture of royalty wearing a sequined tiara, with no sense of lèse-majesté - all this to the delight and amazement of the rather stolid local peasantry.

The instinct for self-replication was satisfied in John’s case by the many friendships he made with the clever young physicians who worked with him, but he had a close and caring family relationship with his sister Pamela and his brother Richard, also a member of the College. He had, like most bachelors, infallible and unshakeable ideas about rearing children but his enduring youthfulness and a carefully calculated rakishness made him a Wodehousian character, greatly beloved by his English nieces and his Australian niece and nephews. Ever ready to learn new skills, he interested himself in cardiac ultrasound towards the end of his career, but he had already begun to deplore how social pressures and the advent of technology were beginning to erode the values that he treasured, and to convert the intellectual skills of the true consultant into the sordid mediocrity of the jobbing specialist.

Rational and rationalist to the bitter end, his greatest role was playing his last act as though he was going to recover in the hope of sparing the feelings of his family and friends - truly a great soul. In the city one amuses oneself; in the country one amuses one’s friends. For John Seymour, London was the city; here in the country we miss his lively wit and the sheer brilliance of his complex personality.

E G Galea

(Volume IX, page 464)

<< Back to List