Lives of the fellows

James Graham Watson

b.4 August 1945 d.15 October 1989
BSc Edin(1966) MB ChB(1969) DCH(1972) MRCP(1973) MD(1981) FRCPE(1986) FRCP(1987)

Graham Watson was born in Dumfries and educated at Kirkudbright Academy, George Watson’s College Edinburgh and Edinburgh University medical school, where he graduated with distinction, having obtained a BSc in medical sciences on the way. His father, Archibald Craig Watson, was a Sheriff of Scotland. His mother, Elizabeth Eudora Watson, was a teacher.

A leaning towards the care of children was evident from an early age and he won the Ellis prize and the University medal in this field. His pre-registration house jobs were undertaken at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, following which he joined the Zambian Flying Doctor service which comprised a team of 12 doctors and 12 nurses, all from Britain, who were part of a government policy of taking health to the people in order to try and prevent a drift of rural populations towards the big cities. Enormous numbers of people would walk for days through the Bush to reach these clinics and it was perhaps here that Graham learnt the real needs of doctors in the developing world, whom he was later to help greatly with their postgraduate education in Britain. Many of the Zambians who came into contact with him during this time kept in touch and he took great pride in reading from the letters he received. In 1988, at a reunion in London of 20 former members of the Flying Doctor service each was asked to bring six pictures taken during their time in Zambia. Graham was the only one who could instantly recall all the names of those depicted in them.

On his return from Africa, he started training in paediatrics at the Westminster Children’s Hospital where he was joined in 1974 by Jennifer Meyers, who was later to become his wife. Together they formed a very strong professional partnership and pioneered many of the techniques in bone marrow transplantation which are now commonplace. Although bone marrow transplantation in children had started at the Westminster in 1972 it was the arrival of Watson and his future wife which allowed the unit to flourish. They developed an unusually strong mutual respect and trust for each other which enabled them to build around them an equally dedicated team of professionals. The Gomer Berry ward at the Westminster became a true centre of excellence where both new and pioneering techniques would be tried, many finding their way into current standard practice, and others being evaluated and discarded. Much of the original thought within this unit came from Jack Hobbs but it was Watson who was able to provide the link between true academia and clinical action.

Having established the unit at the Westminster he left to carry on his work at the Royal Marsden Hospital. In 1981 Watson was the first recipient of the Michael Blacow Memorial award of the British Paediatric Association, given for the best paper presented by a junior doctor at the annual meeting of the Association. Ironically this award had been established as a tribute to a promising young paediatrician who had been killed in an accident. The Royal Marsden Hospital was followed by two unsettled years as senior lecturer in paediatrics at the Royal Free school of medicine.

Graham always had a yearning to return to his native and beloved Scotland and this led him to accept a post as consultant paediatrician at Newcastle General Hospital in 1983 -a few steps nearer home. He rapidly established a reputation as a sound general paediatrician and developed a particular expertise in the clinical aspects of immunology in children which, in turn, led to the establishment of a bone marrow transplant unit specializing in the correction of immune deficiency states. At the time of his death he was in the final phase of negotiations for it to become a joint national centre for the treatment of these diseases in cooperation with his long time friend and colleague Roland Levinsky, at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London.

He was an excellent teacher, sought out by candidates taking the examination for membership of the College, and he had a special fondness for overseas doctors whom he would always help both professionally and socially. He carried out much good clinical research and was the author of over 50 papers. He had just delivered to the publishers the manuscript of a book on paediatric immunology before setting off on his fateful trip. His early longing for travel, starting in his Zambian days, took him on many journeys to various parts of the world, both on a professional and private basis. Together with John Barrett, he carried out the first bone marrow transplant procedure in South America, and only shortly before his death he had been on a Himalayan trek.

Graham Watson was a typical lowland Scot, quiet with a somewhat serious exterior broken by a wonderful, dry sense of humour and sparkling wit. This was complemented by his wife Jenny who had a soft, gentle and more extrovert personality. As a team they were inseparable; she was a wonderful cook and he a generous host, and they entertained often at their home where, in the summer months, they would take great delight in showing off their immaculate garden. They were both very warm, caring and compassionate people and it was a great sadness to them that their deep love of children was not blessed by offspring of their own. They died together in a mountain walking accident in Glencoe. The hills were one of the great loves of Graham’s life and it is perhaps fitting that it was there, on Sgurr na h-Uliadh, that his life should end.

A W Craft/A P Kenna

[Brit.med.J., 1990,300,43; The Times, 25 Oct 1989; The Guardian, 23 Oct 1989]

(Volume IX, page 560)

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