Lives of the fellows

Juan Pete Quilliam

b.20 November 1915 d.11 September 2003
OBE(1986) BSc Lond(1936) MSc(1938) MB BS(1941) MRCS LRCP(1941) DSc(1969) MRCP(1971) FRCP(1975)

Juan Pete Quilliam, known as ‘Peter’, was professor of pharmacology at the University of London. He was born in East Sheen, Surrey, the son of Thomas Quilliam, a schoolmaster, and Maude née Pavitt. He was educated at University College School and won a scholarship to study medicine at the age of 16. He entered University College London and obtained an MSc, specialising in the photochemistry of the colour purple. During his time there he developed an isolated head preparation in which the head was completely separated from the body of the animal and nourished by an artificial heart and lung. This technique is now used daily in bypass operations in organ transplants and cardiac surgery. He then went on to qualify in 1941, with his last year as a clinical medical student involved in emergency medicine in the evacuated London Hospital at Hemel Hempstead. He qualified with honours and distinctions in forensic medicine and hygiene, and then became a house officer at University College Hospital and the Brompton, where he became involved with government research.

In 1943 he volunteered for service in the RAFVR, where he served in the medical branch of both coastal and fighter command. He combined his medical duties with research into the problems experienced by aircrews on long-range sorties, and was involved in the development of anti-G force suits, sunglasses, aircraft early ejection seats and jungle escape packs. During the war he also developed an interest in sailing, and later became an active member of the Crouch Harbour Authority and was involved with the Burnham regatta committee.

After the war, he returned to the academic world as a lecturer at King’s College and married Melita, who tragically died in a road accident in 1957. In 1949, he obtained a travelling fellowship to the John Hopkins Hospital Medical School in Baltimore, where he studied the efferent innervation of muscle spindles with Carlton Hunt and Stephen Kuffler. This stimulated his interest in electropharmacological techniques that would set the direction for his future research work both at King’s and then Bart’s.

In 1956 he was invited to head the new department of pharmacology at Bart’s as a senior lecturer, and was appointed to a new chair at Bart’s in 1962. There he designed and equipped the department and pioneered the use of CCTV and video recording as a visual aid in teaching. His research interest was the electropharmacology of the skeletal neuro-muscular junction and autonomic ganglia. His chosen research field attracted many postgraduate research students, of whom 24 subsequently obtained chairs. Others gained DScs and some even achieved FRS (fellowship of the Royal Society) – a tribute to his mentoring, teaching and guidance skills. He was immensely proud and privileged to have worked with so many future professors, including John Nicholls, David Brown, Michael Besser, Paul Turner [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.499], Andrea Nistri and Paul Adams. On his 80th birthday his former students gave him a book of their research papers as a token of their esteem. David Brown recalls: “Peter had a knack of taking on students who were somewhat unknown quantities and then provided them with the facilities and opportunities to develop in their own way with relatively little interference. Of course the hundreds of preclinical medical students who passed through his department will also remember his clear, easily understandable lectures that were peppered with jokes and props to keep the students interested and awake.”

In 1982 Peter became chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) board of science and chairman of the in vitro fertilisation working party. In this role, he co-authored many influential BMA reports, including reports on the medical effects of nuclear war, boxing and alternative therapy. Despite not being an optician, Peter served as deputy chairman to the General Optical Council and as chairman of two of its key committees, and was its longest serving member (from 1975 to 1988).

In addition to his academic career and life, Peter gave a large amount of his time to public service, focusing his efforts on being innovative, identifying changes that were needed, shaping the solutions and then taking an active, hands on role in delivering the solutions and in motivating the people amongst whom he worked. In 1983, the BMA expressed great concern that the care of the dying in many areas of the UK was inadequate. Although voluntary subscriptions provided hospice buildings and covered their running expenses, there was no comprehensive provision for health care training, and there was no authoritative national voice to speak on behalf of the hospice movement. Peter became a co-founder and a co-chairman of the charity Help the Hospices and assisted in bringing together the necessary fundraising skills, the key members of the hospice movement and the medical profession to address these issues.

Always interested in student welfare, he was the commodore of the United Hospitals Sailing Club for 27 years and saw the club through many transitions from a house, barge and caravans, to a more easily accessible site in London’s docklands. He believed in the necessity of providing hard working medical students with the opportunity to relax by sailing at Burnham on Crouch, and many students will recall his dedication to keeping the club going. His other hobbies ranged from building his own TVs, car, computer and motorcycle maintenance, and various building projects, including sewage systems.

The above covers Peter’s public achievements. He was also a very kind, humorous and private man. His second wife Barbara née Kelly always supported him and he showed great interest and pride in the activities and achievements of his son and daughter (a GP), and of his three grandchildren.

Penny Quilliam
David Brown

[Brit.med.J.,2004 328 408]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List