Lives of the fellows

James Sharp

b.23 March 1919 d.26 December 1999
BSc Manch(1940) MB ChB(1943) MD Rochester New York(1943) MRCS LRCP(1944) MRCP(1948) MD(1955) FRCP(1967)

James Sharp was a consultant rheumatologist at Withington Hospital, Manchester, and the Devonshire Royal Hospital, Buxton. ‘Jimmy’, as he was universally known, was born in Bolton, Lancashire, the son of Frederick Irwin Sharp, a cotton mill manager, and Julia Hannah née Davies, the daughter of a coal miner. His early years were spent in Glossop, Derbyshire, and Boothstown, Lancashire, and he attended the local grammar schools in Glossop and Leigh, before graduating BSc in 1940 from the University of Manchester. His medical training was interrupted by the war and from 1941 to 1943 he was a Rockefeller medical student at Rochester, New York, qualifying from Rochester and Manchester in 1943.

He was commissioned into the RAMC and served with the Somerset Light Infantry in India from 1944 to 1947.

On returning to Manchester, Jimmy gave serious consideration to a career in haematology and from 1947 to 1951 he was a registrar and then senior registrar in the department of haematology at the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

A change of career course followed with the development of the new rheumatism research centre in Manchester and after J H Kellgren was appointed to the first UK chair of rheumatology in Manchester. In 1952 Jimmy became a lecturer on the new unit, and was eventually senior lecturer and assistant clinical director. In 1961 he was appointed as a consultant rheumatologists at Withington, Manchester, and the Devonshire Royal, Buxton.

Jimmy was responsible for organising one of the first spondylitic clinics and his research on ankylosing spondylitis was the basis of his MD, which was awarded with commendation by the University of Manchester in 1955.

He gave the Heberden round in 1965 under the magnificent dome of the Devonshire Royal Hospital. His theme on ‘Central Arthritis’, in which he discussed the clinical and radiological features of patients with axial arthritis presaged the concept of spondylo-arthritis that was to be developed in later years by the Leeds group.

His close collaboration with John Ball on the clinico-pathological features of the rheumatoid cervical spine resulted in numerous publications and was reviewed in his presidential address to the section of medicine of the Manchester Medical Society in 1975.

Jimmy’s reputation for clinical thoroughness was well merited and he had the uncanny knack of finding physical signs from carotid bruits to pericardial rubs that had been embarrassingly missed by his colleagues and senior registrars. He devised his own highly individual 0-4 scoring system for clinical examination and few patients escaped an out-patient visit without having all their joints graded. Jimmy was never observed to have lunch and a morning ward round would continue until it was time to walk over to the afternoon out-patient clinic. If the clinical day often seemed long to his senior registrars at Withington, it was even longer for Jimmy himself as he would invariably see all his in-patients at the Devonshire every evening before returning home.

Jimmy’s ‘hands on’ approach meant he found it difficult to delegate clinical responsibility, but his senior registrars were allowed to manage their own patients and ward rounds with Jimmy at the foot of the bed would often feel like a weekly membership exam. Working with Jimmy was a unique experience which enhanced the clinical competence of all those with whom he came into contact and there is a generation of rheumatologists who will always be grateful for the experience gained while working on his unit.

Jimmy was a very private individual, but an insight into a different persona emerged with the annual Christmas show at the Devonshire, where his colleagues relied heavily on his ability to play the piano by ear. He had a love of jazz and was enthusiastic about motor racing and for many years went to the Monaco Grand Prix.

At the time of his retirement Jimmy was presented with a set of golf clubs – an unusual gift for someone who had never played golf before, but his total devotion to medicine was soon replaced by an equal obsession for this new sport and he became a regular and well respected member of his local golf club at Chapel. At times his presence on the golf course was interrupted by attacks of gout, but he was reluctant to take allopurinol, fearing it would upset the control of the anticoagulants he took for chronic atrial fibrillation and hypertensive arterial disease. It seemed a curious twist of fate when a retired rheumatologist was admitted to his former hospital at the Devonshire with chronic tophaceous gout.

Jimmy met his wife Joan at the local tennis club in 1939 and they were married in 1944. He was very much a family man and despite his long working hours was extremely devoted to Joan and the boys. Jimmy was survived by Joan, his two sons, and two grandchildren.

J S Marks

[Rheumatology 2000,39,1051-1052; Brit.med.J.,2000 320 450]

(Volume XII, page web)

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