Lives of the fellows

John Robert Bentley Turner

b.9 September 1930 d.25 May 2007
MB ChB Leeds(1954) MRCP(1960) FRCP(1978)

John Turner was a consultant physician with a special interest in cardiology at Pontefract General Infirmary from 1966 until 1990, when he retired. He was highly respected as a clinician by hospital and general practitioner colleagues, played squash at a high competitive level well into middle age, and was a lifelong cricket aficionado.

John was born in Hull. His father, Frank Ownsworth Turner, died when John was four years old and he was brought up by his mother and grandfather. Summers were spent with an uncle in Southgate, London, and he was evacuated to Market Weighton for two years during the war.

He had very fond memories of his education at Hymers College in Hull and was delighted to find his name still etched on the glass window when he attended the school’s centenary celebrations in 1993. However, he was not cut out for the Sea Cadets which played a large part in the school’s life (marching in straight lines was not his thing), so he played cricket and squash as often as possible to avoid attending. Much to his mother’s disapproval, he chose not to go into the family laundry business (Bentley’s) and was encouraged by Hymers headmaster to study medicine.

Undergraduate and postgraduate medical education was in Leeds, where he met theatre sister Jean Williamson. They married in 1956. Postgraduate training was interrupted by National Service in 1955. He joined the Royal Navy as a surgeon lieutenant, in the Fleet Air Arm in Yeovilton Somerset. His training included being dropped into the Solent from an aeroplane, but he was able to avoid the ejector seat training, saying: “I will wait for the war to try that one”. Even so, he often talked of his time in the Navy and he had obviously enjoyed it.

Returning to Leeds, he worked at St James and the General Infirmary, where he developed his interest in cardiology. He was appointed consultant physician with an interest in cardiology at Pontefract General Infirmary in 1966 and was chairman of the Leeds division of the BMA from 1967 to 1968.

There were only two general physicians at Pontefract in the 1960s and 70s, but despite the heavy workload with duties in three hospitals he set up the first specialist cardiology service at Pontefract and established coronary care beds. Because of his Leeds connections he was successful in setting up a monthly visit to Pontefract by one of the Leeds cardiologists, ensuring that his patients had prompt referral to tertiary cardiology services. When his senior colleague retired in 1973 and was replaced by a physician with an interest in gastro-enterology, John also took on the diabetic clinic, which he ran until 1979 when he was successful in obtaining an additional consultant colleague with an interest in diabetes and endocrinology. He was in great demand by general practitioner colleagues, had a busy NHS and private practice and did a prodigious number of domiciliary visits. He is remembered for doing domiciliary visits and ward rounds early in the morning on test match days and he was equally renowned for his ability to quickly and shrewdly get to the nub of the clinical problem. For most of his career in Pontefract he was the senior consultant; heavily involved in district and regional committees.

John was a talented squash player, winning the Yorkshire Plate on two occasions with a 15 year gap between. In later years he was quite a sight to be seen on court and a most unlikely match opponent. It was entertaining at competitions to see much younger men initially confident of an easy victory, struggling 20 minutes later, while John hit the ball anywhere he wished. His squash career ended at the age of 56 when he suffered his inferior myocardial infarction on court.

One of his enthusiasms was for good food and wine in convivial company. He was an avid gourmand of international cuisine and a knowledgeable collector and consumer of wines. However, John’s main passion was cricket. He played well at school, but he felt that it was not compatible with a medical career and instead he became an avid collector of cricket memorabilia and toured the world following the game. He accumulated over 20,000 cricket books, anything and everything associated with the game. After retirement, when John and Jean moved house from Ackworth to Pontefract, an extra removal van was required for the cricket collection. He was a life member of Yorkshire County Cricket Club and served on the club committee from 1975 to 1984, when he lost his seat to Geoffrey Boycott. He was also a member of MCC, which he treasured as much as his FRCP and travelled the globe in support of England. In 1993 in India, he was called upon as unofficial team doctor when the team were suffering a bad case of Delhi belly. His advice to the team, including Gooch and Gatting, was to eat the local curries and steer clear of the foreign foods they had been eating.

Following his myocardial infarction and coronary artery bypass in 1986 he enjoyed many years of good health. He retired in 1990 but did outpatient clinics in local fund holding practices during the early 1990s and worked in tribunal medicine into his 70s. In later years he developed type two diabetes and left ventricular failure, but despite deteriorating health he continued to travel the world, following cricket. If John could have chosen the time and place of his death it would have been the test match at Headingley, which is where he died, following England’s great start to the day, with Vaughan nearing a century, the first Yorkshire player since Boycott to do so at Headingley, and of course lunch and good wine.

He leaves his wife, Jean, three sons (one of whom is a general practitioner), a daughter and eight grandchildren.

Colin White

[Brit.med.J.,2007 335 163]

(Volume XII, page web)

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