Lives of the fellows

John Walford Todd

b.16 May 1912 d.4 April 1989
MRCS LRCP(1935) MB BS Lond(1935) MRCP(1938) MD(1939) FRCP(1969)

John Todd was born in Middleton, Lancashire, the son of James Jackson Todd, an inspector of taxes, and his wife Winifred Mary, née Winter. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and in 1930 went on to study medicine at the Middlesex Hospital, London, with an entrance scholarship. He was a popular student and junior doctor at the Middlesex, and a member of the hospital’s seven-a-side rugby team which won the Hospitals Cup in 1941. He once played after the war, making a span of fifteen years between his first and last appearance.

During the war he was resident medical officer at the Middlesex at the time of the ‘blitz’ - a very difficult post in which he excelled. In 1942 he joined the RAMC as a medical specialist with the rank of major. After serving in hospitals at home and in India, he finished his service as a lieutenant colonel, being OC of the medical division in Sumatra where there was considerable civil disturbance. He left the Army in 1947 and was appointed by the Surrey County Council as physician at Farnham Hospital.

In 1948, with the coming of the NHS, the post required a full-time consultant general physician and Todd continued in it until his retirement in 1977. For the last three years he was also based at Frimley Park Hospital, which had just been built. John Todd had somewhat unorthodox views on the role of a physician, being intolerant of waiting lists and wishing to see all outpatients himself. He thought it wrong for juniors to see follow-up patients and was content, for many years, to be assisted solely by one house physician.

He worked full-time by choice, having no desire for private practice. He was not a research worker but wrote extensively, mainly debunking popular but unproven methods of medical management. Unnecessary prescribing was a target and he was a keen advocate of Vis medicatrix naturae'. His books included: Rational medicine, Bristol, John Wright & Sons, 1949; Health and humanity . . ., Oxford/New York, Pergamon Press, 1966; State of medicine . . ., Lancaster, MTP, 1981, and he contributed ‘The practice of medicine and surgery’ in the 15th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He also edited and contributed to A Textbook of medicine, 1960.

Though a controversial figure, his opinions were always expressed without malice and he was in frequent demand as a speaker at medical meetings. From 1953-74 John Todd was a member of Farnham Group Hospital management committee. A member of the BMA for over 50 years, he was elected a fellow in 1988, having been secretary of the Aldershot and Farnham division for 10 years and chairman twice. At one time he used to organize a successful annual dinner dance -irreverently known as ‘Todd’s Benefit’. He was always interested in local affairs. For many years the chairman of his local residents’ association, he became founder chairman of the Farnham branch of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council in 1969 and vice-chairman of the Farnham Hospital League of Friends in 1983. For both these bodies he organized detailed sponsored walks which were most successful fund raising events. From 1983-86 he was chairman of the Farnham Society; chairman of the Farnham and District Group of the Ramblers’ Association in 1982-85, and chairman of the Farnham Committee of the National Trust, West Surrey Centre 1970-79.

In 1947 John married Dorothy Joyce Young, a Middlesex nurse and daughter of missionaries. They had four children, three sons and a daughter. Two of the sons are doctors - one a consultant paediatrician in the Wirral, and the other a lecturer in primary medical care in Zimbabwe. They were a very united family and their great delight was to spend their holidays walking in the fells in the Lake District, to which they returned most years.

C C Thomas
R J Frankel

[Brit.med.J., 1989,298,1515]

(Volume IX, page 520)

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