Lives of the fellows

John Victor Oswald Reid

b.23 December 1926 d.9 August 2004
BA BM BCh Oxon MRCP(1957) FRCP(1972)

John Reid had an enduring influence on clinical medicine, physiology and on the University of Cape Town. Born in Benoni in South Africa and educated at St John’s College in Johannesburg, he volunteered for active duty in Italy in the Second World War from 1944 to 1945 in the intelligence section, Imperial Light Horse Regiment, 6th South African Armoured Division.

After the war he read medicine at Oxford. He was awarded the university clinical scholarship, the Radcliffe scholarship in pathology and the Radcliffe prizes in pathology, medicine and surgery. He played in the Oxfordshire county rugby XV, captained the university XV and the Lincoln College tennis team. After internships in Oxford he was a registrar under Paul Wood [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.456] at the London Heart Hospital. He was unique as a young doctor because he insisted in undergoing every investigation and test that he performed on his patients.

He returned to South Africa as a lecturer in medicine at the University of Natal and in 1960 became professor of physiology and pharmacology. He was well-loved by his students and had their respect for his outstanding teaching and for his forthright opposition to any form of discrimination.

He made important contributions to medical education and became dean of the faculty of Natal, travelling widely as the travelling fellow in education of the commonwealth travelling fund of New York. He was a visiting scientist to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda.

Not many doctors have the vision, insight and originality to make a new observation. Reid was among their number, giving the first description of floppy valve syndrome.

In 1978 he was appointed to the South African Medical and Dental Council. He was honorary president of the Association of Medical Students of South Africa, president of the South African Cardiac Society and of the South African Nutrition Society. He was a member of the life sciences committee of the Atomic Energy Board, of the basic sciences committee of the MRC, and chaired the atherosclerosis study group of the MRC and the social commission study project on Christianity in apartheid society. He was a member of the national executive of the Progressive Party of South Africa, the lone voice of open political opposition to apartheid within the country.

In 1981 Reid became deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Cape Town, and was in that post until his retirement in 1991, a position he filled with great distinction. He was responsible for academic administration, information technology, the library and space management. He frequently acted as vice-chancellor in the vice-chancellor’s absence. These were difficult, tumultuous years for an academic leader committed to social justice and non-discrimination. Many problems arose, some public, including demonstrations against apartheid itself, against detention without trial, deaths in detention, banning of individuals and police violence. Reid’s leadership in many public protests earned him great respect. Other upheavals were internal to the university, with student and staff protests part of the general tension and instability in society as a whole. Reid acted with courage and forthrightness. His integrity was recognised by all and he was an inspiration to many.

He had a keen open mind with a remarkable capacity for lateral thinking. A devout Christian, his life and work serve as an example to all in medicine and in society as a whole. He is survived by his wife Louise, a gifted artist, who was a constant support to him, and by his four children. One son read medicine at the University of Cape Town.

Stuart Saunders

(Volume XII, page web)

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