Lives of the fellows

Michael John Thorpe Peaston

b.4 April 1936 d.3 May 2009
MB ChB Liverp(1959) PhD(1967) MRCP Glasg(1964) MRCP(1968) FRCP Glasg(1979) FRCP(1981)

John Peaston was a consultant physician at Kidderminster, in Kamloops (Canada) and, finally, in Chester. Remarkably, he managed to successfully combine a hugely varied professional life as a physician with a wonderfully fulfilling family life, as well as finding the time for an amazing diversity of interests outside medicine.

He was born in Liverpool, the son of Harry Peaston, a physician. At the age of six months he was boarded as a kindergarten child, as one parent was based in England and one in Africa. At the age of three and a half he was at boarding school at St Anne’s, near Blackpool. Following the Second World War, he boarded intermittently at Liverpool College and managed, despite the protestations of the school, to spend some time in Sierra Leone while in his teens.

He was a keen athlete, excelling at sprinting, and held a number of school athletic records. He also had passions for hockey and rugby, playing the latter while at school at county level as well as for Gosforth against Wasps and Cambridge. An interview for medical school at Durham clashed with a key match and he was rather grudgingly granted an alternative interview date. He apparently took some pleasure in being able to decline the subsequent offer of a place there, and instead accept an offer for Liverpool.

Postgraduate training took place in the North East and the Midlands. In particular he was fortunate to work with Eric Sherwood-Jones and Andrew Wilson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.465] as lecturer in clinical pharmacology and therapeutics in Liverpool, spending most of his time on the intensive care unit at Whiston Hospital. He researched metabolic balance with major burns and pioneered nasogastric and parenteral nutrition in the critically ill patient. As well as publishing he lectured worldwide on these subjects and made this the topic of his PhD.

In 1968 he was one of only four people worldwide to be awarded a Merck Foundation international fellowship in clinical pharmacology. He was also appointed as an international fellow in medicine at the John Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, USA. While there he pursued key research into the effects of L-Dopa and other anti-Parkinsonian medication, facilitating the introduction of these new drugs into clinical practice.

He returned to the UK in 1970 having been appointed consultant physician at the then Kidderminster General Hospital, where he designed the intensive care and coronary care unit. However, in 1972, he was invited to be visiting professor of clinical pharmacology in Texas, USA, where he performed further anti-Parkinsonian medication research, but declined the offer of a permanent position. On his brief return to Kidderminster he was chairman of the medical staff committee, but in 1975 he was head-hunted to be visiting consultant physician in Kamloops, British Columbia, to develop their intensive care unit. His plans to settle permanently in Canada were changed for professional reasons and also to enable him and his wife Barbara to provide appropriate educational opportunities back in the UK for their two cherished daughters, Jane and Anne.

In 1977, after a few locum posts, John was appointed as a consultant physician in Chester to the Royal Infirmary and City hospitals. Here he remained for the next 18 years until his retirement. Clinically, as well as his interest in pharmacology, he developed an interest in cardiology introducing various innovations (for example, emergency cardiac pacing and continuous ECG monitoring) and supervising the coronary care unit. He chaired the local branch of the British Heart Foundation. Management roles included clinical director and treasurer of the National Association of Clinical Tutors. Education and training were also important to him and duties included clinical tutor, associate postgraduate dean for the Mersey region and chairman of the Mersey Regional Council for Postgraduate Medical Education. Unfortunately his professional career was abbreviated by the development of symptoms of cardiac ischaemia and so he retired in 1994 with the title of emeritus consultant physician.

Despite his busy professional life he managed to fit in many and various hobbies and other interests. He enjoyed making contributions to Private Eye and also to the Conservative Party, as a self appointed adviser. Salmon fishing was probably his greatest hobby. He tied nearly all his own salmon flies and proudly published in Trout and Salmon two salmon flies, tied and named after his adored granddaughters. He constructed numerous chess puzzles, started to write a piano concerto and dabbled in oil painting. He enjoyed golf, but regarded it as a social walk with friends whose company he would otherwise miss. He developed a good ‘ear’, useful for his interest in birds and particularly bird song and also ‘stethoscopic diagnosis’, in the days before universal availability of echocardiography.

Following his retirement, John and his wife decided, after much thought, to return to Worcestershire, close to Kidderminster where they had enjoyed many years in the past and where many old friends still lived as well as some family members. Their house in Blakedown, along with its two acres of garden, kept John well occupied. He was always grateful for the flexibility allowed by Barbara regarding holidays so that, as well as enjoying holidays together, he was also able to indulge his hobby of fly-fishing whenever he wished, sometimes with friends but also, on occasions, alone. This solitude enabled him to return to writing poetry. Over 10 years he wrote and published some 150 poems. Four of the five books were self-published since he, true to form, said that at his age he had no time to wait around for publishers to decide whether or not to agree to publish his manuscripts. Subjects of his poems were diverse but reflected his interest in the natural world, particularly birds and remote places, as well as fly-fishing, nineteenth century romantic poets and heroic figures.

He and Barbara had a succession of shelties and rough collies over some 30 years. He claimed that, if resurrected, he would opt to return as a family dog in the Peaston household to be sure of a wonderful life.

John found his stamina failing, which led to a final move to a lovely house in Chaddesly Corbett. The reason for his tiredness soon became apparent with the diagnosis of metastatic colonic cancer.

He was philosophical about his impending somewhat premature death as he acknowledged that he had been fortunate in having a wonderful life. In particular, he was grateful for his fascinating and varied career, facilitated by the excellent start in life provided by his parents, followed by his delightful 15 years in retirement to enjoy his hobbies and his family, especially his grandchildren, Charlotte, Rebecca, Harry and Daniel. John’s one regret was that not even his poems could express his eternal gratitude to his wife Barbara for 50 years of the most blissful married life.

Richard C Worth

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List