Lives of the fellows

John Feely

b.20 November 1947 d.10 June 2009
MB BCh BAO NUI(1971) BSc(1973) MRCPI(1974) MD(1979) FRCPI(1984) FRCP Edin(1992) FRCP(2000)

John Feely was a distinguished pharmacologist and an authority on hypertension, who was professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at Trinity College Dublin.

Born in Limerick, his father was Michael, a well-known doctor attached to St John’s Hospital, and his mother Mary née McMahon came from a prominent local business family. Accustomed to accompanying his father on his visits to patients, this may have influenced his decision to follow him and his two older brothers, Michael and Morgan, into medicine. Educated at St Munchin’s College in Limerick, he studied medicine at University College Dublin (UCD) and the Mater Misericordiae Hospital (MMH). After qualifying with outstanding results in 1971, he was offered an internship in the professorial units of surgery and medicine at the MMH.

On completing his intern year, he joined the department of pharmacology at UCD and, in 1973, was awarded a BSc (hons) in pharmacology. The following year he was appointed tutor and medical registrar at the MMH while, at the same time, he was an assistant lecturer in pharmacology at UCD. In 1976 he moved to Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, Dundee, which, at that time, was considered to be one of the best clinical pharmacology departments in the UK. Working initially as a registrar, he became lecturer in pharmacology and therapeutics in 1977 and stayed for two years. During this time he carried out research with two leading pharmacologists, Jim Crooks [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.126] and Ian Stevenson, on disorders of the thyroid and the beta blocker propranolol, a topic upon which he based his MD thesis.

In 1979 he passed his MD and was awarded a prestigious fellowship by the Society of Clinical Investigation which enabled him to spend two years working in the department of clinical pharmacology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, with the distinguished pharmacologist, Alastair Wood. Here his area of research was on drug interactions, drug reactions and liver blood flow. Among other prizes etc that he won at this time he was also given a Japanese Pharmacological Society fellowship and a Wellcome Young Investigator Award for Clinical Research.

On his return from the US, he was appointed, in 1983, a consultant physician to Dr Steevens’ Hospital (a post he held for five years) and, the following year, professor of pharmacology and therapeutics at Trinity College Dublin. For the next 25 years he successfully built up a department with an international reputation for outstanding research and excellence in clinical care. A strong advocate for his discipline, he built up the first training scheme for clinical pharmacology and therapeutics in Ireland. Chairman of the Irish Blood Pressure Council, he also chaired the national implementation group for Heartwatch, a secondary prevention programme in primary care. He served on the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland and was a strong supporter of the movement to bring in pharmacists as part of the hospital multidisciplinary team.

He became internationally recognised as an expert on hypertension and published over 300 research papers. Having joined the British Pharmacological Society in 1980, over 38 of his original papers appeared in its journal the British journal of clinical pharmacology. He edited New drugs (London, BMJ Publishing, 1991) a popular book based on his articles in the BMJ and it has gone through several editions.

His clinical work was not neglected. In 1988 he left Dr Steevens’ Hospital and moved to St James’s Hospital. Here he set up model hypertension and lipid clinics, and established protocols to ensure consistently high standards of patient care. He became the physician of choice for many in the medical profession when they needed care for themselves or family members.

A reputation as a good communicator and an entertaining and witty speaker ensured that he was invited to give lectures frequently both nationally and internationally. A member of the British, European and American Societies for Hypertension, he was also a member of the American Health Association and the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Locally he was on the National Drugs Advisory Board, the Health Research Board and the Irish Heart Foundation. He was largely responsible for the establishment of three major initiatives, the National Medicines Information Centre, the National Pharmacoeconomics Unit and the Centre for Advanced Clinical Therapeutics.

At the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland (RCPI), he served as registrar from 1989 to 1996. Recognised as one of the most effective doctors to serve in that position, he played a major role in the organisation of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Ireland in 1992 to celebrate the tercentenary of the granting of the Royal Charter to the RCPI. He also helped to establish examinations by the college in the Middle East and fostered friendly relations with the UK royal colleges and the Department of Health.

He had a great interest in the history of Ireland and the history of medicine. An enthusiastic cartographer, he had a fine collection of ancient maps, mostly of places in Europe, which he hoped to catalogue when he retired. Tennis was a passion and it was said that he proved a daunting opponent. He loved travel and, in later years, acquired an apartment in Antibes in the south of France which he enjoyed visiting with his wife.

In 1972 he married Deirdre, who was a counsellor. They had four children - Claire, Michael, Robert and John. He was survived by Deirdre and their family, and his elder brother Morgon, who is a clinical pharmacologist in Leeds.

RCP editor

[Trinity College Dublin ebulletin www.medicine.tcd.ie/bulletin/june-2009/feely.php - accessed 10 March 2015; Irish Times 27 June 2009; Br j clin pharmacol 2009 68 780-1; Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh obituaries www.rcpe.ac.uk/obituary/professor-john-feely-frcp-edin - accessed 10 March 2015; Irish Medical Times www.imt.ie/opinion/guests/2009/07/a-great-loss-to-science-and-medicine.html - accessed 10 March 2015; Ir J Med Sci 2010 179 475-7]

(Volume XII, page web)

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