Lives of the fellows

Gavin Leonard Bourdas Thurston

b.26 March 1911 d.15 June 1980
CBE(1966) MRCS LRCP(1933) MRCP(1937) DCH(1937) FRCP(1969) FRCGP(1969) Hon DMJ Soc Apoth Lond(1963)

Gavin Thurston was the fourth son of John Bourdas Thurston of London. He was educated at Dulwich College, London, and entered Guys’s Hospital Medical School in 1928, qualifying MRCS LRCP in 1933. After completing house appointments at Pembury and the Belgrave Hospital he went into general practice in Brentwood, Essex, being admitted MRCP in 1937 and obtaining a DCH in the same year. He served in the RAMC from 1939 to 1945 as a medical specialist in India and NW Europe, obtaining the rank of lieutenant colonel and upon cessation of hostilities returned to practice.

He shortly after came under the influence of an older Guy’s man, Percy Barnard Skeels, a solicitor of the City firm of Hoddinott & Skeels, then HM coroner to metropolitan Essex, and was appointed his deputy in 1949, intending to turn to coronership. Few deputy coroners at that time achieved London appointments without the patronage of William (later Sir William) Bentley Purchase, so he attended the coroner’s court at St Pancras from 1952 to 1956, eventually achieving appointment at Westminster (Inner West London district) in 1956, a post he occupied until his death in 1980. He served both as treasurer and as secretary to the Coroner’s Society and in due course became president for a year. His wide experience of coronership resulted in his views and advice in this field being sought from all quarters.

He took further interest in medico-legal affairs by joining the Medico-Legal Society, becoming editor of its journal in 1958, and president in 1969. He was also a member of the British Academy of Forensic Sciences and lecturer for a short period at the West London Medical School until its closure. He sat on the council of the Medical Defence Union from 1960 to 1980.

He had, in order to achieve his London coronership, read for the Bar, being admitted from the Inner Temple in 1952, but never practising as a barrister.

Gavin Thurston had always expressed his views crisply and in a few well chosen words. He joined the Authors’ Club, becoming its chairman for 1967-1969, wrote a standard work on Coroners' Practice in 1958, and contributed sections on the same subject to Atkin’s Court Forms and to Halsbury’s Laws of England. He was examiner for the DMJ of the Apothecaries Hall. He also found time to write two further books with a medico-legal flavour - The Great Thames Disaster (1965) and The Clerkenwell Riot (1967) and articles, editorials, etc. in the Medico-legal Journal.

Thurston spent his first few years as a doctor in medical practice in Brentwood, and in later years this experience was invaluable to his understanding of doctors’ problems in general practice. He was particularly proud of his election to the fellowship of the College in 1969. The Royal College of General Practitioners also paid him the same compliment shortly after their inception - the only coroner to receive this mark of esteem. He was made CBE in 1966.

Gavin Thurston was twice married, firstly in 1935 to lone Witham, daughter of JT Barber. They had a son and a daughter. His first wife died tragically in an accident. In 1939 he married Janet Hazell MB ChB LRAM, a talented administrative medical practitioner.

Thurston was imbued with a natural humanity. He lived a long life of public duty, more than twenty-five years of which was spent in the responsible position of HM coroner. He never used his position to impose authority and anyone who appeared before him in court was handled with a quiet, patient courtesy and understanding. His fellows referred to him as ‘a splendid chap’, his officers, who both liked and respected him, referred to him as The Guv’nor’, and relatives were often heard to speak of him as ‘that nice man’ - all words which reflected his very likeable, but very upright character so well. He had a clear sympathy with, and a discerning understanding of, his fellow men which gave his enquiries so much more than mere factual accuracy and justice. He was, indeed, a man who brought much credit to the ancient office of coroner in this country; a distinguished doctor who practised the art of healing in the London courts.

CK Simpson
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme

[Brit.med.J., 1976, 2, 1204; Lancet, 1976, 2, 1094; Times, 30 Oct 1976]

(Volume VII, page 578)

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