Lives of the fellows

Victor Walker Johnson

b.8 January 1929 d.19 September 2006
MB ChB Edin(1952) MRCP(1964) FRCP(1980)

Victor Johnson was a consultant physician at New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton. Even as a boy growing up in Northumberland, he wanted to be a doctor. While others of his age would play cowboys and indians, Victor would play being a doctor and treating patients. He realised his ambition and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he qualified as a doctor. He subsequently worked in the Royal Navy and did further postgraduate training in Sheffield and London, before being appointed as a consultant at Wolverhampton in 1968.

Medicine was his life and he gave his all to his patients. In those days treatments were not as plentiful or as effective as today. Victor was particularly skilful at supporting patients through their illnesses when drug treatment was limited.

At a time when continuing medical education (CME) was a concept unknown to many, if not most, doctors, Victor was an assiduous medical journal reader. Indeed he continued to read the BMJ, The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine, as well as the New Scientist until a few months prior to his death. In an era when doctors were not under scrutiny, Victor set himself high standards. Keeping up-to-date was part of those high standards. However, he did not hoard his knowledge, but rather generously shared it. In particular he was exemplary in the help that he gave to young doctors preparing for the membership examination of the College. On Monday nights he would hold tutorials and would be particularly proud when they would be successful in that examination. Nowadays, when clinical material is so easy to store with the click of a mouse, it is perhaps difficult to imagine an era when having ready access to teaching material was so difficult. His office, which he shared with his secretary of 26 years, Sheila Barnfather, was unique in the number of sets of notes, journals and other pieces of clinical material that were present for teaching purposes. He encouraged junior doctors working with him to present at the Friday grand rounds. He was unusual in his commitment to national medical education through his involvement with the Royal Society of Medicine. Indeed, he became president of its clinical section. Many of his junior doctors had their first medical publication in the RSM Journal.

Victor was a quiet man but an approachable one. He always had time, not just for his patients, but also for other members of staff, whether they be in the hospital kitchen, porters, nurses or other medical colleagues.

The other major part of his life was the long, loving and happy relationship with his wife, Lydia, in their beautiful home, Reynard Cottage. Even when Victor was seriously ill, Reynard Cottage always proved to be a happy place, full of laughs and jokes, gossip and stories, politics and observations on life. Long-term illness did not prevent Victor enjoying trips by car to places such as Shugborough or the Derbyshire Dales, and before that he enjoyed going to the theatre, concerts and ballet. Victor and Lydia enjoyed many wonderful holidays in Kefalonia in Greece, where his ashes will be scattered.

Victor developed Parkinson’s disease 14 years before his death. He had a particularly severe form of the illness and indeed in recent years was mostly either in a freeze or subject to distressing involuntary movements. The severity of the Parkinson’s disease made recovery from femoral and humeral fractures all the more difficult and painful. He bravely underwent successful cataract surgery which enabled him to resume his medical journal reading. Despite his long illness, with many complications, he bore all suffering with remarkable patience and dignity, never complaining. This was reflected in the huge affection with which he was held by all who cared for him, whether at home or in New Cross Hospital or the Wolverhampton Nuffield Hospital.

Richard FitzGerald

(Volume XII, page web)

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