Lives of the fellows

James Wright Kerr

b.13 July 1924 d.28 March 2004
MB ChB Glasg(1947) FRFPS Glasg(1951) MRCP(1954) MRCP Glasg(1962) MD(1968) FRCP Glasg(1968) FRCP(1974)

James Kerr was a major figure in respiratory medicine in the West of Scotland. He was head of the department of respiratory medicine of the West Glasgow hospitals for 22 years up to his retirement in 1989.

After house jobs in the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, he did his National Service, during which time he was posted to the British Military Hospital, Trieste, as a clinical pathologist. From there he was dispatched as medical officer to soldiers stationed in the adjacent Alps. There was plenty of free time, which allowed him to take up skiing, a sport at which he became expert and which he continued until a year before his death.

After further junior medical posts at the Western Infirmary, he obtained a Fulbright travel scholarship and spent a year at the Institute of Allergy, New York, before becoming senior registrar on the MRC clinical research unit at the Western Infirmary. This led to his appointment as the first consultant in respiratory medicine with care of beds at Knightswood Hospital and supervision of the new ITU at the Western Infirmary.

After retirement from the NHS, he built up a considerable reputation as an expert witness, particularly with cases of lung disorders attributed to asbestos exposure.

He was a pioneer in the field of adrenergic reactors in the bronchi and investigated the effect of various drugs that blocked these receptors. His expertise was acknowledged by his appointment as co-editor of Clinical Allergy from 1980 to 1984 and chairmanship of the editorial committee of the Journal of the International Academy of Allergies. From 1983 to 1985 he was president of both the British Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and the Scottish Thoracic Society. He played an important role in attracting the 1990 meeting of the European Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology to Glasgow.

James Kerr played a major role in the organisation of medical services in the West Glasgow hospitals. He was secretary from 1975 to 1977 and chairman from 1981 to 1984 of the division of medicine. Other offices included chairmanship of the specialist advisory committee on respiratory medicine from 1978 to 1984 and membership of the WHO working party on intensive therapy units.

He was a quietly determined man with a dry sense of humour. He solved political problems by conciliation rather than confrontation. In addition to skiing, he was an enthusiastic hill-walker, rock-climber and swimmer. Latterly, he became a highly competitive golfer.

While working on the MRC unit, he met Muriel Andrews, a graduate in chemistry who was investigating aspirin derivatives for her PhD. They were married in 1962 and have a son and daughter, and five grandchildren.

It is a fitting tribute to the life and work of James Kerr that the respiratory medicine unit that he founded has become an internationally recognised centre for research and training in the specialty.

B H R Stack

[Brit.med.J., 2004,328,1502]

(Volume XI, page 315)

<< Back to List