Lives of the fellows

John James Walsh

b.4 July 1917 d.[?] January 1993
MB BCh BAO(1940) MD NUI(1963) MRCP(1968) FRCS(1969) FRCP(1975)

John James (Jack) Walsh was an Irish citizen, born in England. He was educated at Mungret College, Limerick, and University College, Cork. His father, two uncles and three cousins were all in medicine and Jack chose to follow the family tradition. His clinicals were undertaken at the South Infirmary, Cork, and during the war he worked mainly in surgical posts at various hospitals around London, including King surgical posts at various hospitals around London, including King George’s Hospital, Ilford and the Connaught Hospital, Walthamstow.

In 1947 he was appointed medical officer at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, three years after it had been set up by Sir Ludwig Guttmann [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.233], at the request of the government, to deal with war injuries. It was at Stoke Mandeville that Jack Walsh developed his lifelong interest in the treatment of paraplegia. At that time it was the only centre in the world where lifelong treatment was carried out and it became the model for centres elsewhere. From its inception until 1952, when it became part of the NHS, Stoke Mandeville dealt mainly with service casualties and civilians injured in the ‘blitz’.

Once integrated in the NHS, Jack Walsh was appointed deputy director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre, a post he led until 1966 when he was promoted to director. In 1961 he had been made honorary consultant to the National Centre for Paraplegia in Ireland. That same year the International Medical Society of Paraplegia was founded and Walsh became founder secretary and treasurer. For 16 years he continued in this honorary post, which entailed travelling abroad; the Society had a worldwide membership and Jack played an active part in establishing it in many countries.

Jack developed great expertise in the management and treatment of paraplegia. He was indeed the practical man who made Guttmann’s ideas work. As a surgeon he excelled in the treatment of pressure sores, a common complication of paraplegia, and he carried out useful research into fertility in paralysed people. His book Understanding paraplegia, London, Tavistock Publications, 1964, was translated into French, Italian and German. He was a quiet, kind man, always considerate both to patients and colleagues.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1969 but insisted that he continue to be called ‘Doctor’ since he felt that the title ‘Mr’ was a denial of the hard work which had gone before. He retired from the NHS at the age of 60 and became a consultant at the Paddocks Private Clinic and also devoted much time to the charity ‘Para-Travel’.

In his younger days he had been a keen rugby player and enjoyed shooting. He was an avid reader and an enthusiastic fisherman. In 1946, he married Joan Mary, daughter of Henry Teasdale Birks, a solicitor. They had four children. Joan predeceased him by a year.

V C Luniewska

[The Daily Telegraph, 6 Jan 1993]

(Volume IX, page 548)

<< Back to List