Lives of the fellows

James Sinclair Stewart

b.12 August 1929 d.6 May 2012
MB BS Lond(1955) MRCP(1960) MD(1970) FRCP(1975)

Jimmy Stewart was a consultant physician and gastroenterologist at West Middlesex University Hospital from 1966 until his retirement in 1989. His origins were Scottish, though he was raised in north-west London, where his father, Donald, was a general practitioner. His mother Nita had been a lecturer in biology at Aberdeen University. During the Second World War, he was sent to live with his grandparents in Aberdeen, and attended the grammar school there. It was in Scotland that he acquired his love of mountains and for climbing. He returned to London at the end of the war, finishing his schooling at Mill Hill School, where he studied classics rather than sciences.

Before going on to university, Jimmy did his National Service from 1948 to 1949 as a second lieutenant and acting captain in the Royal Army Service Corps, seeing active service in Malaya. With his background, he entered the Middlesex Hospital Medical School in 1950 on a classics scholarship, subsequently gaining a further scholarship in anatomy and physiology. He went on to edit the journal of the medical school.

After qualifying in 1955, Jimmy Stewart spent a further six years as a junior doctor at Middlesex Hospital, apart from a spell as a house physician at Brompton Hospital. His posts at the Middlesex included that of deputy resident medical officer. At times, including during the Asian flu pandemic of 1957, he was responsible for all the hospital’s emergency admissions, except those in obstetrics, and for the clinical care of sick nurses.

From the Middlesex Hospital he moved in 1961 to the gastroenterology unit at Hammersmith Hospital, where he was a medical registrar, TK Stubbins research fellow of the RCP, and subsequently a senior registrar, working for Christopher Booth [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web]. Here Jimmy developed his lifelong interest in malabsorption, and in particular in coeliac disease, writing his MD thesis on small intestinal structure and function in this disorder.

In 1966 he was appointed to a consultant physician’s post at West Middlesex Hospital, Isleworth, then a large district general hospital in the suburbs of west London. He was now the second physician with an interest in gastroenterology at West Middlesex, joining the distinguished Nelson Coghill [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.115], who had started the department in 1947. Jimmy and Nelson worked harmoniously together for 11 years until the latter’s retirement in 1977, sharing a commitment to full-time working within the NHS, and combining meticulous clinical care, clinical research and teaching. Jimmy set up and ran a malabsorption clinic, mainly for coeliac patients, and, continuing his interest in the doctor-patient relationship, wrote literature for the Coeliac Society, some of it specifically directed to teenagers. Indeed, he had a special empathy for the problems encountered by adolescents in their attempts to cope with the restrictions of a gluten-free diet.

In the 1970s, with funding from the Department of Health, Jimmy and his colleagues at West Middlesex Hospital cooperated with Arie Zuckerman at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in a three-year community study of acute hepatitis in three local west London boroughs. This work was the first in the UK to suggest that hepatitis B could be a sexually transmitted disorder amongst male homosexuals.

Jimmy Stewart was an enthusiastic teacher of undergraduates and postgraduates, and was especially pleased to be involved, at the end of the 1970s, in the transformation of the West Middlesex into the West Middlesex University Hospital. The initial alliance was with Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, later to become the Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School, now part of Imperial College School of Medicine. He was for many years an examiner for part II of the MRCP and hosted the clinical examination at West Middlesex for the first time.

As a clinician, he was patient, perceptive and friendly, while his ward rounds combined courtesy and an old-fashioned formality. He was a tireless supporter and mentor to his junior medical staff. Though never happier than when examining the surface anatomy of a jejunal biopsy through a dissecting microscope, Jimmy was essentially a cerebral rather than a hands-on gastroenterologist, preferring to let others with greater expertise carry out endoscopic procedures.

Particularly during his time as chairman of the hospital’s medical staff committee, Jimmy was a canny political operator. He liked to work closely with colleagues in management, believing in constructive negotiation and informed dialogue, rather than confrontation. His forward planning was exemplary, much of it sustained by the little red diary he always carried in his waistcoat pocket. He felt that his greatest administrative coup was to have Nelson Coghill’s successor, Stephen Kane, in post on the day after Nelson retired, despite the inevitable financial constraints. In terms of advice to his colleagues on managerial matters, he often said that it was not the intended recipients of letters that mattered, it was the list of those to whom copies should be directed.

In retirement, Jimmy and his second wife Eleanor lived in north Oxfordshire, then in Cheltenham, and finally in Shipton-under-Wychwood, near Oxford. His interests outside medicine included mountaineering (he was a life member of the Cairngorm club) and the philosophy of religion. Latterly he and Eleanor travelled extensively, until his late-onset asthma and her failing memory curtailed their activities. Jimmy died of post-operative complications following surgery for a large rolling hiatus hernia.

He married first, in 1955, Sheila née Craig and they had a son, two daughters and six grandchildren. Following their divorce, he married Eleanor née Till, a consultant radiologist, in 1982.

Stephen Kane

(Volume XII, page web)

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