Lives of the fellows

Barrie Russell Jones

b.4 January 1921 d.19 August 2009
CBE(1985) BSc New Zealand(1942) MB ChB(1947) DO(1953) FRCS(1955) Hon FRACS(1972) MRCP(1974) FRCP(1977) Hon FRACO(1984)

Barrie Russell Jones, professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of London and later founder of the International Centre for Eye Health, made a substantial contribution to the prevention of blindness in the developing world. He was born in Silverstream near Wellington, New Zealand, the son of Charles Robert Jones, a builder. He obtained a natural sciences degree at Victoria University College, Wellington, before going on to study medicine at the University of Otago, Dunedin. In 1951, he went to the UK in order to widen his experience of clinical and academic ophthalmology, with the intention of gaining a PhD before returning to Dunedin to take over the reins from his old mentor Rowland Wilson.

Once in London, however, the course of Barrie Jones’s life changed forever, and with it the future direction of British ophthalmology. He soon obtained a training post at Moorfields Eye Hospital, where he was stirred by a number of possibilities which presented themselves, in particular those offered by the recently formed Institute of Ophthalmology founded and run by Sir Stewart Duke-Elder [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.172]. As soon as his training was complete, he obtained a part-time research appointment at the institute, which soon led to the post of senior lecturer with honorary membership of the consultant staff at Moorfields.

Barrie Jones possessed not only a powerful intellect, but a range of other assets, including excellent clinical judgement, fine surgical skills, a highly developed sense of curiosity, boundless energy and determination, all encompassed by personal charm and a puckish sense of humour. He would allow no obstacle to stand in his way. Indeed Norman Ashton [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.33], already a towering figure as head of the department of pathology at the institute, is alleged to have described him as being ‘like an oak tree growing up through concrete’.

In 1963, Barrie Jones was appointed to the most prestigious academic post in ophthalmology in the UK, as professor of clinical ophthalmology in the University of London. The department of clinical ophthalmology was based at the Institute of Ophthalmology, but its clinical component was embedded in Moorfields Eye Hospital and, by virtue of his unique personality and well recognised brilliance, he was able to reconcile the aims and aspirations of hospital and institute as never before, and thereby exert his influence throughout the country.

Nor was this burgeoning influence confined to the UK. Douglas Coster, a visiting fellow from Australia, later professor of ophthalmology at Flinders University, Adelaide, wrote: ‘Barrie Jones…had a drive which set him apart from anyone else I have met in the field…He was able to identify the areas of ophthalmology where advances needed to be made and where advances were feasible. Often he was working in a number of disparate fields at once, assembling willing collaborators around London and the rest of the UK, and indeed the world. Each of his pursuits was attacked with extraordinary enthusiasm and effectiveness. The ability to focus intently on important and emerging issues and to get to a point of tangible contribution quickly was one of…[his] attributes. [He was] never a self promoter in the manner of so many latter-day rock-star doctors, he was a most energetic promoter of his cause, which was the eradication of preventable blindness.’

In addition to his influence on the conduct of laboratory-based clinical research, Barrie Jones brought about two fundamental changes in clinical practice in the UK. Firstly, he insisted on the use of the operating microscope by all trainee ophthalmic surgeons, and secondly, he realised that ophthalmology would only progress by encouraging sub-specialisation. As all trainees spent time working in the professorial unit, while others who were already fully trained returned there to serve as research fellows, a set of bright new microsurgeons emerged from the unit into the ophthalmic world.

Aside from the dynamic of his presence in London, Barrie Jones was a towering international figure. The coincidence of his early training in New Zealand with Rowland Wilson and his experience at the Institute of Ophthalmology in London, led him to pursue the study of and treatment for eye disease resulting from all kinds of infection, but in particular those caused by chlamydia. It came to his notice that the chlamydial organism was just as rife in the western world as it was in the Middle East. In hot dry countries where infestation with eye-seeking flies was endemic, it caused chronic, blinding eye infection, while in western countries, chlamydia was a low grade venereal disease associated with sexual promiscuity. Working with Eric Dunlop [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.173], consultant venerealogist at the London Hospital, Barrie Jones conducted unique research into the diagnosis and treatment of chlamydial infection in London, while on numerous field trips to the Middle East and elsewhere abroad, he and his team conducted meticulous and arduous research. He was later to extend his role to include the control of onchocerciasis (river blindness) in Africa.

From 1975 onwards, he set about realising the achievement of his life’s ambition, by garnering support and raising funds to enable the creation of an international centre that would promote the teaching and promulgation of preventive ophthalmology worldwide. In 1981, the International Centre for Eye Health, department of preventive ophthalmology, was opened, with Barrie Jones its first director. The culmination of a life’s work in the eradication of preventable eye disease, he continued as the Rothes professor of preventive ophthalmology until his retirement in 1986.

Barrie Jones was asked to deliver many of ophthalmology’s most prestigious lectures, including the Jackson memorial lecture in the USA (1974) and the Bowman lecture in the UK (1975). He was the recipient of many awards and honours, including the CBE, the Gonin medal and the King Faisal international prize in medicine. In 2004, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness gave him its global achievement award.

He was survived by his wife Pauline née Monkman, whom he married in 1946, and their daughter and three sons.

Peter K Leaver

[References:The Telegraph 31 August 2009; The Times 4 September 2009; Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows, The Royal College of Surgeons of England http://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/biogs/E001033b.htm – accessed 20 December 2010; The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons http://www.surgeons.org/racs/fellows/in-memoriam/barrie-russell-jones.aspx – accessed 21 December 2010; Brit.med.J., 2009 339 3543; The Lancet Vol.374, Issue 9701, p1590]

(Volume XII, page web)

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