Lives of the fellows

Dion Jonathan Maberly

b.6 July 1938 d.10 February 2012
MB BS Lond(1962) MRACP(1967) MRCP(1968) FRACP(1976) FRCP(1993)

Dion Jonathan Maberly was a consultant physician at Airedale General Hospital, West Yorkshire. He was born in London, and then moved with his parents and elder brother to Sutton Valence, Kent, during the latter part of the Second World War. His father, Alan Maberly, was a child psychiatrist who had studied with both Freud and Jung. His mother was Joan Diedre Maberly. Jonathan attended Sutton Valence School as a day boy and enjoyed exploring rural England on his bicycle. At that time Whitbread brewery issued three sets of small, collectable reproductions of their inn signs, which were available at each inn. Cycling around Kent, he managed to collect each one and the three complete sets still hang in his home. He also started collections of stamps and coins, managing to fund his purchases by selling cacti to the local plant nursery.

He was never an enthusiastic scholar, but set about his medical training with planned precision and success. It helped that he had a remarkable memory. His house jobs were in Plymouth, where he and his wife, Elaine, enjoyed the moors and coast, and endured the worst winter since 1947. His wife had travelled before their marriage and she was keen for Jonathan to have similar experiences. They worked in Washington DC from September 1963 to the following July, and were at the hospital to which the body of John F Kennedy was brought from Texas. It was a strange experience to be in a completely still hospital in the middle of a working day, and to hear the black members of the community weeping for the fallen president.

At the end of his internship he, his wife and young daughter completed a 4,000 miles trip across the United States in a two-seater Austin-Healey Sprite – the car raised a lot of interest back in 1964, compared to the enormous American gas-guzzlers.

The family returned to the UK en route to New Zealand, where Jonathan spent a year as a clinical pathologist at Dunedin Hospital to prepare himself for the membership exams. A second year in New Zealand was spent in Auckland as a registrar in chest medicine, which was to set him on his life's work. He passed his membership exams before returning to the UK. Whilst in Dunedin the family did a lot of touring and Jonathan learned to glide. Towards the end of their year in Dunedin their daughter died of viral pneumonia; their son was born 10 weeks later, soon after they arrived in Auckland.

Returning to the UK, he was advised to get a broad training in general medicine before specialising in chest medicine and worked at St Thomas' Hospital, Hammersmith and the Middlesex. Here he renewed an interest in allergies, which had begun when, in Auckland, he noticed that the babies admitted with gut and respiratory disorders were bottle-fed. This was to become a dominating factor in his medical thinking.

His appointment as a general physician with an interest in chest medicine at the busy Airedale General Hospital in the 1970s fitted his interests and experience very well. The atmosphere at that time was exemplary in that the relationship between consultants, junior staff, nurses and support staff was warm, friendly and co-operative. There was an established, very active, GP training scheme, which meant that communication between the community and the hospital was second to none.

Jonathan and Elaine, now with a family of a son, two daughters, plus a dog and a cat happily settled into rural life in West Yorkshire. Initially living in an old stone farmhouse on the moors, the family loved walking and became fascinated by the abundant fungi in the local area. They grew their own vegetables and soft fruit, kept chickens and geese and, having attended the local apiary society for a year, Jonathan set up his own hives, which kept the family in honey.

As a chest physician, it worried him that prescribing medication and endeavouring to persuade patients to moderate their lifestyle, especially in regard to smoking, was all he could offer. He managed to get a no-smoking policy established within the hospital. Then in the late 1970s he attended a symposium at the Royal College of Physicians given by a group of physicians from America. These were the founder members of the Society for Clinical Ecology, and he recognised that here was a way to give patients responsibility for their own health. The essential message was that anything eaten, drunk, put into or onto the body had a direct bearing on a person's health. He began to use these ideas in his practice, with good results, but eventually reached the point when seriously sick patients needed a clean environment to ‘dry out’, in order to establish and improve their physical condition as a base line from which to test for any offending substances. The Airedale Allergy Centre was opened in 1985 and continued to get good results. One survey showed that 79% of the previously ‘fat file’ patients continued to enjoy greatly improved health, providing they stuck to their new lifestyle.

Building the allergy centre meant that the family moved down to the village of Steeton to live in a lovely old house with sufficient land on which to build the centre. It also provided greater opportunity to host many overseas students, family and friends.

By this time Jonathan had recognised the early symptoms of Parkinson's disease, from which his father had also suffered, and the decision was made to join their son in Australia, having ascertained that their daughters would follow. At Christmas 2001 they landed in Melbourne, moved into their Winnebago, and set about re-establishing themselves. The years that followed were good at every level. Jonathan spent hours wandering about the 40 acres of bush adjacent to their home, observing native flora and fauna, and the glorious night skies renewed an old interest in astronomy.

His whole family, now including partners and grandchildren, established themselves within reasonable distance and he greatly enjoyed the get-togethers. His elder daughter got married just five months before his death and the morning suit he wore for the occasion was the same in which he had been married over 50 years earlier. Jonathan was a generous, diverse, inquisitive, tolerant and gentle man who unfailingly gave of himself.

David Miles

[Brit.med.J., 2012,344,3818]

(Volume XII, page web)

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