Lives of the fellows

John Langton Taylor

b.27 February 1911 d.29 November 2008
BSc Manchester(1940) MB ChB(1943) MRCS LRCP(1943) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1970)

John Langton Taylor was a consultant physician in Rochdale from 1950. Even though his formal employment by the NHS ended in the 1980s, he never stopped being a consultant to the community, remaining committed to bringing people together to build better services.

He was born in Liverpool, the son of Percy Taylor and Lily née Kenton. He initially became a pharmacist, but with support from his mother decided to change careers and enrolled as a mature student at Manchester Medical School in 1939. During his student years he was active politically, co-founding the British Medical Students Association, initially under the aegis of the National Union of Students, and serving as chairman for the three years prior to its formal inauguration in Cambridge in 1942. Taylor was very proud that the embryonic organisation was able to recruit many of the most eminent doctors of the day as honorary vice-presidents, with J Ryle [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.595] the first honorary president. Even more gratifying was the decision by the planning commission of the BMA to ask the new students’ association to produce a memorandum on medical education. The report was published in 1943. In the same year, Taylor enlisted. Serving in Syria and Palestine, he was ultimately in command of a field dressing station and was discharged with the rank of major.

His first civilian posts were in Manchester, where he became chief assistant in the department of cardiology at the Royal Infirmary in 1948, the start of a lifelong devotion to the specialty. In 1950 he became a consultant physician to the Rochdale Group of Hospitals. This was a town of much social deprivation, poor health and a large immigrant population. It also had a long history of community involvement. The English cooperative movement had, for example, been started in the city. Fortunately Taylor had a penchant for medical conditions likely to be more widespread among the underprivileged.

In 1967, he set aside beds specially for patients who were suffering from suspected heart attacks. Within a very short time this became the basis of a coronary care unit, funded and supported largely from local resources, including the Pioneers Society, one of the earliest of the cooperative groups. These supporters were gently brought together by Taylor’s quiet but persistent enthusiasm and encouragement. By 1968 Birch Hill Hospital was probably the first district hospital to have a heart unit with separate monitoring at each bed and a constantly manned central console. Its continued success led to the forming of a local Silver Heart appeal, which provided Taylor’s successors with a coronary angiography department in 1994, another first.

In 1970, there was a suggestion of an increasing incidence of rickets and osteomalacia in the UK. Taylor and his colleagues from Manchester Royal Infirmary surveyed a section of Rochdale’s immigrant population. This clearly showed a high unrecognised incidence of vitamin D deficiency (‘Occult rickets and osteomalacia amongst the Asian immigrant population’, Q J Med 1973 Jan;42(165):125-49). Community resources were alerted by Taylor. A follow-up study in 1980 showed improvement, though principally in children (‘Observations on the natural history of vitamin D deficiency amongst Asian immigrants’, Q J Med 1982 Spring;51(202)171-88). He continued his interest in bone disorders throughout his career. In 1971 his presidential address to the medical section of the Manchester Medical Society, of which he was a fellow for 61 years, was entitled ‘familial bone disease in Rochdale’. The interest continued into retirement when working as a locum geriatrician.

Education was also a theme throughout his career and it was unsurprising that in 1962 he became the first formal postgraduate tutor to Rochdale and that, through the quiet recruitment of resources, a purpose-built postgraduate centre, one of the first of its kind, was handed over to him in 1968. That same year Rochdale became one of only two hospitals in the region accepted for the training of senior medical students. The centre remained extremely busy, used by all medical and paramedical disciplines from the hospital and the town, until the Rochdale Health Care NHS Trust was disbanded in 2002.

The word ‘retirement’ meant little to him. After his release from his original contract, Taylor returned to do locum posts, continued to be involved with the postgraduate centre, the Silver Heart and other charity appeals, and remained director of the local Red Cross well into his eighties.

In his younger years he enjoyed travel with his family, often camping or caravanning, and always showed an insatiable curiosity with very wide, often esoteric, interests. He retained a daunting intellectual capacity and even in the last months of his life had the ability to discuss in depth Frederic Wood Jones’ contributions to anthropology, medieval accounts of the dissolution of the monasteries, current affairs (both foreign and home), recent scientific advances, management of his household and so much more. Sadly, as a result of progressive loss of sight, Jack had in these last years to keep himself up to date via family, friends and the daily application to an array of audio-books and his beloved BBC. Despite this and the other physical frailties that accompany old age, Jack never complained and remained largely independent, continuing to maintain the impeccable standards of gentility that had been a hallmark of his presence to the end of his long life. No one addressed him as other than ‘Dr Taylor’, but out of earshot he was fondly ‘Jack’ to those who worked with him.

He married twice and sadly lost both his wives, Eleanor Mary Brown and Joan Hine, to cancer. He left five children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was a very private, seeming to some austere, gentleman and yet he had the ability to engage with others and move them in directions that enabled them to make better provision for themselves and those about them. Many would see this as the essence of giving care and of being a doctor. Fortunately these qualities were recognised by the community he served for so long and in the millennium year he was voted ‘man of the millennium’ in Rochdale. At the Rochdale Infirmary a library has been established in his name.

John Elliott

(Volume XII, page web)

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