Lives of the fellows

John Harry Howard Glyn

b.18 March 1921 d.1 October 2005
MRCS LRCP(1946) MB BChir Cantab(1947) MRCP(1952) MD(1955) FRCP(1971)

John Glyn was a delightful, modest, self-effacing man, who felt his contributions to rheumatology in the early days of cortisone were entirely serendipitous. Edward Kendall had demonstrated, in dramatic fashion, that cortisone could be extracted from the adrenal glands of cows. Initially, it took 40 head of cattle to provide one day’s treatment, so there was no cortisone in England. In 1950, however, Philip Hench, who was pioneering cortisone’s use, chose W S C Copeman’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.120] unit for a European collaboration. Peter Bishop [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.48], the endocrinologist, in collaboration with Copeman, recruited John to the study, who then found himself with a precious supply of cortisone to keep in his refrigerator at home. He was then given the opportunity to give ten days of cortisone treatment to ten patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The assessment methods he used and his co-ordination of the clinical, laboratory, academic and administrative activities of the group were exemplary, and this success led on to a Fulbright fellowship and to New York University. There, inspired by Hench and by Morris Ziff, his lifelong interest in rheumatic diseases became firmly established.

In Philip Hench’s own words, cortisone was the real McCoy. For a euphoric moment this was widely accepted, but two years later, John wrote a more critical ‘warts-and-all’ book on the subject. Hench had agreed to write a preface, but objected to the reservations that John Glyn expressed – and which were soon widely held. In the event, Hench did his best to prevent the book’s publication, but they still remained friends. John also remained friends with Ziff, in spite of a similar honesty in his comments about the Bellevue Hospital in which Ziff’s rheumatology unit was based. While he greatly admired Ziff and his work, he regarded the hospital wards – at that time – as overcrowded, unventilated and smelly, and considered the psychiatric unit ‘Dickensian in it’s squalor and amazingly short on humanity’. He also felt strongly about what he regarded as the ethical failures of the hospital’s approach to clinical research and the lack of informed consent, which was soon to become a matter of major international concern.

John Glyn was the son of Sidney Glyn, a successful business man, and Clair (nee Vos). He went to Harrow and on to Jesus College, Cambridge, where, at the age of 17, he began to read economics, but then changed his mind. He found time to row, captained tennis, and then qualified in medicine in 1946. He served on the professorial medical unit at the Middlesex Hospital, and in the following year married Daphne Bayley, with whom he was to enjoy 58 years of marriage. They had a son, Ian, a daughter, Gilli, and six grandchildren. For the next two years he served as a medical officer to the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. He then worked as a research registrar at the West London Hospital, before his unexpected exposure to cortisone virtually re-directed his life.

John’s further training at St Bartholomew’s, the London and the Middlesex hospitals led on to a consultant post at the Prince of Wales Hospital where, in spite of the fierce rivalries of the time, his rheumatology department became a model for it’s combined medical, physiotherapy and rehabilitation facilities. He went on to a very happy 16 years at St Charles Hospital and the St Mary’s Hospital Group, in collaboration with Eric Bywaters [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.86] of the Hammersmith Hospital.

John and Daphne enjoyed good food and wine and were excellent hosts. He was a quiet but persistent philosopher – always questioning, not only his patients but also his friends. He had a great love of music and of opera, continued to play tennis and ski, and in his latter days took up golf – which gave him unfeigned delight on the few occasions when he could beat his opponent. At the age of 84, he died suddenly while reading The Times.

Maurice Lessof

(Volume XII, page web)

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