Lives of the fellows

John Greenwood Wilson

b.27 July 1897 d.14 June 1990
MRCS LRCP(1923) MB BS Lond(1924) DPH(1924) MD(1926) MRCP(1927) FRCP(1936)

John Greenwood Wilson was born at Charlton in Kent, the son of a Baptist minister John Wilson and his wife Eleanor, née Thomas. He was educated at Christ’s College, Blackheath, and Colfe’s Grammar School, Lewisham, before entering Westminster Hospital medical school. With the advent of the first world war he volunteered, from medical school, to join the Armed Forces as a combatant and saw service in Salonika as a second-lieutenant until he was wounded. He then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, now the Royal Air Force, became a pilot and served until 1919 as a lieutenant. After the war he returned to medical school, qualifying with the Conjoint in 1923, followed by his London MB and the DPH. He then held junior hospital posts at the Westminster, the Monsall Hospital, Manchester; the Childrens’ Hospital Great Ormond Street and the Joyce Green ‘Fever’ Hospital.

His career in public health began as deputy in Lewisham. He moved on to be medical officer of health in Dewsbury and subsequently, in 1933, in Cardiff - where he remained for 20 years in one of the more important posts in his specialty, including teaching in the medical school. In 1954 he became medical officer to the Port of London, the post being combined in 1956 with that of medical officer of health to the City. He remained there until his retirement in 1962.

Greenwood Wilson obtained his membership of the College in 1927, having already achieved the London MD, and was elected a Fellow in 1936 - one of very few from the field of public health at that time. He was one of the earliest advocates of immunization against diphtheria in Britain and he published a book on the subject after experience of a severe epidemic in Dewsbury. He also wrote on public health law and published various papers on public health subjects. One of his last initiatives concerned contamination of carcass meat by salmonellae.

He served on various central advisory committees concerned with nursing, mental health and housing, and was at one time chairman of council of the Royal Society of Health.

He had a somewhat acidulous manner and his influence in and contact with the wider field of medicine was perhaps less than one would have hoped from a man with his higher qualifications. In particular, his move back to London did not result in as great an impact at national level as he may have hoped. As a result, he was rather diverted into other interests - in, for instance, the City Companies. Nonetheless, his effort to arouse concern about salmonella infection from surface contamination of food was important and well in advance of his time. He must be regarded as one of the medical officers of health whose work remains a refutation of the detractors of the achievements of his specialty in the earlier years of the National Health Service.

In 1929 he married Wenda Margaret Hithersay Smith and they had three children; the marriage was dissolved in 1941. His second wife, Gwendoline Mary Watkins, died in 1975; there was a daughter of this marriage. Greenwood Wilson’s interests, outside medicine, were especially in theatre and music.

Sir George Godber

[The Times, 25 June 1990; The Daily Telegraphy, June 1990]

(Volume IX, page 593)

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