Lives of the fellows

Joseph Charles Woodrow

b.27 October 1924 d.14 August 2010
MB ChB Leeds(1949) MD(1961) FRCP(1971)

Joseph Charles Woodrow, known as ‘John’, was a dedicated NHS doctor, a scientist who researched genetic disease, and a consultant rheumatologist at the United Liverpool Hospitals. He was on the staff of the department of medicine at the University of Liverpool for more than four decades. He was born into a large working class family who had arrived in Leeds from Europe in the 1900s. His father, Harry Woodrow, ran a bookshop in their house in the Chapeltown area, and also worked as a machinist at Burton’s factory when times were hard. His mother, Rebecca née Brostoff, was the daughter of Samuel Brostoff, a manufacturer of hardware. There was an intellectual bent to the family; his older brother Julius became a mathematician, while his younger brother Joash became a painter, and has recently been recognised as one of the most important post-war British artists.

John went to Leeds Central High School and studied medicine at Leeds University, qualifying in 1949. After house officer posts, he settled in Liverpool, joining a research team led by Sir Cyril Clarke [Munk’s Roll, Vol. XI, p.112] in the department of medicine. Their focus was Rhesus haemolytic disease of the newborn, a condition then affecting one in 200 newborns, of whom about a third died. Clarke described the atmosphere in the department as ‘amateur’, since research was undertaken without funding and often in spare time. Nevertheless, their studies of antibody injections to prevent Rhesus disease formed one of the most significant advances in preventive medicine of the second half of the 20th century, contributing to the virtual disappearance of the disease today.

John was a full-time NHS clinician who became aware in the course of his research on antibodies that many patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic joint diseases in the northwest of England and north Wales lacked access to specialist care. He started the first rheumatology outpatient clinic in Liverpool, managing his patients’ care over decades. Patients were rarely discharged even when in long-term remission, their visits enabling him to experience himself the natural history of disease, teach doctors in training and provide reassurance. Short, doughty and with a wry sense of humour, many years after retirement people would recognise him in the supermarket or at a concert and say ‘Do you remember me?’ He was always interested in their progress, often remembering that he still had photographic slides of their hands.

After retirement, he maintained an interest in science and medicine. He admired dramatic advances in diagnosis and treatment, but as a generalist it was inevitable that he lamented fragmentation within medical care, particularly when he observed it from a patient’s perspective. He always retained admiration for NHS staff looking after him, despite the marked changes in culture over the last half century. An avid reader with a lifelong love of classical music, he proved no Luddite, embracing the internet and the wide range of artistic and scientific material it provided.

He married Caroline (Carol) Vivien née Kirkham, the daughter of an insurance manager, in 1966. They had two sons, Philip and Charles, and three grandchildren.

Charles Woodrow

(Volume XII, page web)

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