Lives of the fellows

John Fisher Stokes

b.19 September 1912 d.11 May 2010
MRCS LRCP(1937) MB BChir Cantab(1937) MRCP(1939) MD(1947) FRCP(1947) FRCP Edin(1975)

John Fisher Stokes was a consultant physician at University College Hospital (UCH), London. He was born in Bexhill, Sussex, the son of Kenneth Stokes, a general practitioner, and Mary née Fisher, the daughter of the chairman of a merchant shipping line. He was educated at Haileybury School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He qualified from UCH in 1937, where he was a house physician and house surgeon, and subsequently a resident medical officer and then a medical registrar. From 1942 he was a physician in the RAMC, seeing action in Burma, and was mentioned in despatches. He was demobilised as a lieutenant colonel. In 1946 he became a consultant physician at UCH, where he remained until his retirement in 1977.

At UCH, he was regarded as being one of the exceptional doctors of his generation. His humanity, his desire to pass on his skills and knowledge to students and doctors in training, and the commitment and devotion to the institutions he held in such high regard – the RCP and UCH – made him a unique member of an outstanding generation of doctors.

He was a caring physician, a great diagnostician and a very effective teacher who packed the lecture theatre for his monthly clinico-pathological conference, but it was at the bedside that he excelled. He would listen to the history given by the student or young doctor with the utmost attention. He then questioned the patient, often eliciting new and important information or he would re-cast the narrative in a way which would alter the significance of the essential features of the account. This was a competitive sport and we all struggled to prevent this revision taking place, and on the whole we all failed. He would then conduct a meticulous physical examination. His examination of the abdomen was always rounded off by a search for cervical, post clavicular, axillary and epitrochlear glands, then auscultation of the abdomen. Generations of young doctors, after observing how effective a methodology this was, found themselves in possession of a sensitive tool, which would function in all clinical circumstances. The patients responded to the intensity of this scrutiny with trust and gratitude.

He was a censor at the RCP (from 1963 to 1964), and then became academic vice-president (1968 to 1969), and gave his time and commitment to the MRCP examination. He was an effective administrator who limited his considerable efforts to that which was practical and possible. He was concerned to standardise the MRCP and was a main driver behind the introduction of multiple choice questions into the examination. He stood twice for the presidency of the RCP (in 1964 and 1965), but failed to be elected. He showed not a trace of regret or disappointment after the votes, immediately throwing his weight behind the newly-elected presidents. In 1981 he was the Harveian orator.

On retirement from the National Health Service, he continued as an adviser, acting as a consultant to the Indian and Sri Lankan medical services for the World Health Organization, to Saudi Arabia for the RCP and to the Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok. He also became a trustee of Leeds Castle in Kent.

His appearance was always distinguished: he was beautifully groomed and suited, often with a slightly raffish touch, and wore an emblematic bow tie. He was endowed with a formidable array of talents. He was a ball player of the highest standard; he reached the finals of the National Squash Championship in 1937, played international squash in 1938 and he loved real tennis. He played the piano brilliantly, to a standard which enabled him to perform publicly, giving a concert to a packed audience in the library at UCH with a university orchestra. He completed The Times crossword daily well into his nineties. His Harley Street rooms were decorated by competent and attractive watercolours he had painted whilst in the RAMC in Burma. He had wide and close contacts in the theatrical and musical worlds.

In 1940 he married Joan Stokes née Rooke [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], an exceptional clinical microbiologist, who also became a fellow of the RCP. They had one son, Adrian, and a daughter, Jenny, five grandchildren (Ben, Nicola, Timothy, Joanna, who is a member of the RCP, and Katherine) and three great grandchildren (Ella, Otto and Henry). The Stokes built a country house near Henley, ‘Ossicles’ (the land had previously been owned by a Mr Smallbones, a typical Stokesian pun), next door to their great friends, the actor Alastair Sim and his wife, Naomi. Here John and Joan would entertain young doctors and their partners, where conversation, food, drink and a thrashing at boules or tennis would fill the weekend in a highly enjoyable way. John died after a short illness, a few months after the death of his wife of 69 years.

John Fowler
Brian Harrison

[Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh online obituaries www.rcpe.ac.uk/publications/obituaries/2010/stokes.php - accessed 23 July 2010]

(Volume XII, page web)

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