Lives of the fellows

Geoffrey Watkinson

b.12 May 1921 d.20 February 1996
MRCS LRCP(1943) MB BS Lond(1943) MRCP(1944) MD(1945) FRCP(1962) MRCPG(1969) FRCPG(1971)

Geoffrey Watkinson was a widely respected general physician and a distinguished gastroenterologist. He was born at Farnworth in Lancashire, the son of a pharmacist, who later moved with his family to North London. Geoffrey was a wartime student at St Bartholomew’s and graduated in 1943. Within a year he was made medical chief assistant to Arthur Geoffrey Evans [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.578] for whom he had great respect. Geoffrey subsequently joined the RAF medical branch and rose to the rank of acting wing commander.

On discharge from the RAF he was appointed tutor in medicine in Sir Ronald Tunbridge’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.513] department at Leeds where he remained for thirteen productive years, reaching senior lecturer with consultant status. Here he provided a comprehensive gastroenterological service, but, as was usual at that time, he remained an active general physician. He combined these activities with active research into the pathogenesis and management of peptic and inflammatory bowel disease. Building on Matthew Stewart’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.396] definitive work on the incidence of peptic ulcer at autopsy, Geoffrey found this condition in 10% of males aged 45 or over. He was one of the first to measure 24 hour gastric acidity by the sampling method and, on the clinical side, he took an active part in the Leeds/York trial comparing different operations for duodenal ulcer. In 1953 he was awarded a Rockefeller travelling fellowship and went to work for a year with Charles Code at the Mayo clinic where he delineated the role of duodenal vagally mediated reflexes in the control of gastric secretion. In his later years in Leeds inflammatory bowel disease became a major interest and he was closely involved in the early MRC trials of steroid therapy.

He moved to York in 1961, but continued his work at the Leeds colitis clinic, producing a steady stream of original work mostly centred on the management of colitis. He regarded his years at York as some of the happiest of his life. First and foremost a general physician, he was held in high esteem as a teacher and his opinion was in constant demand, especially by the York general practitioners.

Eventually circumstances beyond his control led to tensions and the loss of his Leeds connection. Finding his position intolerable he moved in 1969 to Glasgow, at the invitation of Graham Wilson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.612] and Sir Andrew Watt Kay, becoming a physician to the Western General, Gartnavel and Southern General Hospitals. Here he spent seventeen years and quickly became an integral part of the gastroenterological scene which included a number of outstanding gastroenterologists.

During this time his achievements received national and international acclaim. In the 1970s he was in the unique position of simultaneously holding the presidencies of both the British Society of Gastroenterology and the World Organization of Gastroenterology. From 1962 to 1978 he served tirelessly as international relations secretary to the British Society of Gastroenterology and was also secretary general of the World Organization. He found himself in a strong position, not only to integrate British with world gastroenterology, but more importantly to help bring together a very heterogeneous collection of national societies into a coordinated and effective body. In the early years the support and encouragement of Thomas Hunt [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.286] was a great asset in this task. Recognition of his work followed in his election to the presidency of the World Organization of Gastroenterology in 1974 and thereafter to the position of lifelong honorary president of that body.

A person of charm, courteous manner and high intellect, he was held in deep affection by his many friends. The high regard in which he was held was patently obvious at the festschrift and dinner to mark his retirement held at the Glasgow College in 1986. The varied contributions reflected the breadth of Geoffrey's gastroenterological interests over the years and his friends and former colleagues were drawn from many parts of the world.

He married his wife Marie in 1944 and they had a daughter and a son. In later years his equanimity was overwhelmed by the recurrence of a depressive illness which blighted his retirement and sadly cut him off from much of the medical world until he died from a stroke.

Michael Atkinson

[Brit.med.J., 1996,312,1603]

(Volume X, page 509)

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