Lives of the fellows

Peter John Taylor

b.24 September 1929 d.6 January 1987
BSc(1951) MB BS Lond(1954) MRCP(1956) DIH(1962) MD(1966) FRCP(1971) FFCM(19760) FFOM RCP(1978) Hon FFOM RCP(1982) OStJ(1982)

The name of Peter Taylor is bound up with the origins and development of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine within the Royal College of Physicians of London, and with the emergence of occupational medicine as a distinct discipline within the main body of British medicine. The recognition of occupational medicine has been growing slowly in Britain since the work of Charles Turner Thackrah and it is interesting to see in the previous volumes of Munk's Roll how many distinguished physicians in this field are represented. Peter Taylor takes his place among them as an influential figure who commanded widespread respect, not only by virtue of his authoritative contributions to the literature, especially to that on sickness absence which was a subject that he made his own, but also because of his standing as a leader and someone to whom one might turn for good advice and commonsense.

His father, Commander Sam Taylor, was a submariner and his mother, Alice Storm, was partly of Danish origin. Peter, an only child, was educated at Clifton College and was originally destined for a career in the Navy but, having failed the eyesight test, decided on medicine instead and in 1947 entered St Thomas’s Hospital which was close to his home. He took a BSc in physiology and graduated MB BS with honours in pathology. This was followed by appointment as house physician at St Thomas’s. Between 1956-58 he was a medical specialist and acting squadron leader in the Royal Air Force, serving in Cyprus. There he met his wife, Josephine Marian Hetherington (Jo), a sister in the Princess Mary’s RAF Nursing Service who had also trained at St Thomas’s. They were married in 1959 and had two children, a son and a daughter. Later in his Service career, Peter was medical specialist at the British Military Hospital at Tripoli; in both these appointments he impressed others by his clinical skills and meticulous and untiring efforts on behalf of his patients.

Peter Taylor returned to civilian life as a medical registrar at St Thomas’s, in 1958, but two years later he became a medical officer to Shell International at Balikpapan in Indonesia where he spent three years during which he learnt to speak fluent Pasar Malay. He returned to the UK in 1963 to be a senior medical officer at Shell Haven in Essex where he began his classical studies of sickness absence, which he made the subject of an MD thesis, for which he was given the BMA occupational health prize in 1967. This work formed the basis of an important paper on ‘Personal factors associated with sickness absence’ published in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine in 1968 (25., pp. 106-118). His investigations emphasized the importance of a man’s attitude to his work and to his own health in relation to sickness absence.

In 1968 he was appointed deputy director of the Institute of Occupational Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where he set up an information and advisory service while continuing his work on sickness absence, shift work and chronic disability, contributing to the teaching programme and writing 23 papers.

In 1971 he was invited to become the chief medical officer to the Post Office where he was responsible for an occupational health service for 422,000 people, which employed 26 doctors, 75 nurses and an occupational hygiene group, on a budget of 2 million pounds. He filled this appointment with distinction, using his expertise in sickness absence studies to the full on the accumulated health records which became available to him. He moved in 1981 to another major post in the occupational health field, international medical adviser to Unilever, which inevitably involved a heavy programme of foreign travel in Europe, North and South America, Africa, Australia and the Far East, which further enhanced his international reputation and brought him into contact with occupational medicine as it is developing worldwide.

In addition to his exacting job, Peter Taylor gave much time to professional organizations concerned with occupational medicine. He was an active member of the Society of Occupational Medicine and served on its research and education panels, and the executive committee, before becoming president of the Society in 1974. In the same year he was made secretary of a RCP working party on industrial medicine which produced a discussion paper that October. This group was replaced by a standing committee of the College whose terms of reference were to explore how the College could provide a professional focus for occupational medicine and, among other tasks, formulate training requirements. Peter Taylor put forward arguments for a faculty within the College, and with the support of the standing committee he drafted standing orders and raised the possibility of recognition of a membership qualification by the General Medical Council. The latter was achieved in 1985. The first Faculty board meeting took place on 18 May 1981 with Peter Taylor as vice-dean, and he became dean of the Faculty a year later. He was the first chairman of the Faculty’s ethics committee and played a major part in the production of Guidance on ethics for occupational physicians published by the Faculty in 1980; two further editions appeared respectively in 1982 and 1986 under his supervision. This booklet has had a wide circulation in the United Kingdom and has attracted interest abroad. His published work, beginning when he was in the RAF, amounted to some 60 papers on a variety of subjects, particularly on absence attributed to sickness, shift work, the disabled and stress. He was joint author, with A Ward Gardner, of Health at work, London, Associated Business Programmes, 1975, and contributed chapters to a number of books on occupational medicine.

Peter Taylor became a member of the International Congress on Occupational Health in 1969, and of its absenteeism and shiftwork subcommittees. He was visiting professor at McMaster University, Canada, in 1979-80. Other activities included part-time honorary appointments as consultant/senior lecturer to Guy’s and King’s College Hospitals in London; membership of the medical advisory committees of the Health and Safety Commission, the Industrial Society and the Migraine Trust, and appointment as civilian consultant in occupational medicine to the RAF in 1984.

He acted as examiner to London University for the MSc, PhD and Diploma in Occupational Medicine; the Diploma in Industrial Health of the Conjoint Board 1973-77; as an external examiner to Dundee University from 1977, and for the MSc to Singapore University in 1979. He was chief examiner for the Associateship of FOM from 1984 until his death.

Fully committed in everything he did, Peter Taylor was a tireless worker, an accomplished lecturer, and had the quiet authority that enabled him to represent occupational medicine effectively at home and abroad. He was easily approachable and ready to give help, especially to those in training or involved in research. He encouraged women to take up occupational medicine, feeling that they were under-represented, and became involved in a project on ‘Women in Occupational Medicine’ based in Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, and supported by the Leverhulme Trust.

Peter Taylor’s recreations were music - he was especially fond of Haydn and Mozart operas - gardening and donkeys; he was vice-president of the East Anglia Donkey Show in 1984. His son is now a schoolmaster and his daughter is married.

In 1985 he was treated surgically for achalasia of the cardia, an ordeal about which he made no fuss and which he appeared to take in his stride. His death from a dissecting aneurysm of the aorta was totally unexpected and cut short a life which had still a great deal to contribute to occupational medicine and many other activities.

A thanksgiving service was held for Peter Taylor in All Souls Church, Langham Place, London on 31 March 1987, at which the dean of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, John Aldridge, gave an address; the service included a reading of The Donkey by G K Chesterton, reflecting Peter’s interest in the breed.

The Faculty, together with the Society of Occupational Medicine and the College, combined to establish a Peter Taylor Medal to commemorate his contributions to occupational health and to all three organizations. It marks outstanding academic achievement by trainee occupational physicians and will be awarded to the candidate submitting the best dissertation in the Faculty’s membership examination. The medal is in silver, with the College arms and a figure of Charles Turner Thackrah. In recognition of Peter Taylor’s work as a civilian consultant the Royal Air Force has established the Peter Taylor Chair of Occupational Medicine, to be held by a serving medical officer nominated by the Director General and approved by the Faculty.

RI McCallum

[Brit.med.J., 1987,294,255; Lancet, 1987,1,342; The Times, 9 Jan 1987; FOM Newsletter, Feb 1987,No 23; J.Soc.occ.med, 1987,37,65; Address, All Souls Church, Langham Place, Mar 31,1987]

(Volume VIII, page 497)

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