Lives of the fellows

John Anderson Strong

b.18 February 1915 d.15 December 2012
CBE(1978) MBE Mil(1942) BA Dublin MB BCh BAO(1937) MRCP Edin(1954) MRCP(1956) FRCP Edin(1957) MD(1967) FRCP(1962) FRSE

John Anderson Strong was professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh and a former president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Born in Kells, County Meath, Ireland, he was the third child of Charles James Strong, a landowner, and his wife, Mabel Ethel née Anderson, whose father, James, was a merchant. One of five boys, he also had an older sister. Educated at Kingsmead Preparatory School in Hoylake on the Wirral, and then at Monkton Combe School near Bath, all his life he remembered the pleasure of cycling as a boy to school along the towpath of the Kennet and Avon Canal. He studied medicine at Dublin University and the Adelaide and Dr Steeven’s hospitals.

Qualifying in 1937, he did house jobs at the Gloucestershire Royal Infirmary, spent a short time as a ship’s surgeon in the Far East and acted as a locum GP in Lancashire before joining the RAMC at the start of the Second World War. He served from 1939 to 1945 during which time he spent four years in India, mainly in the north east corner on the Burmese border where he was, at one time, under siege and being kept alive by food parcels dropped by the RAF. On at least one occasion, the staff and patients had to hide in a ditch while the Japanese ran through the hospital tents. Only rarely did he speak of this ordeal although, remarkably, many years later he ended up living next door to an ex-pilot who had been responsible for dropping the food parcels in that area. He commanded the military hospital at Digboi, 14 Indian Casualty Clearing Stations, and eight Indian MTUS (malaria treatment units). Awarded the MBE in 1942, he was mentioned in despatches in 1945. He ended up in Burma and was demobilised with the rank of honorary Lieutenant Colonel.

On his return he joined the staff of the Fulham and West London hospitals as a registrar in 1946, and was appointed clinical tutor at the West London, staying in post from 1947 to 1948. Interviewed partly in a hotel bar by Sir Stanley Davidson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p. 136] who was Edinburgh University’s professor of medicine at the time, he became senior lecturer in the department of medicine at the University of Edinburgh and honorary consultant physician at the Western General Hospital (WGH) – this was to be the start of more than 60 years association with the university. At the WGH, he played a major part in founding the department of medicine and was elected the first chairman. An expert in nuclear medicine, he was appointed honorary physician in the Medical Research Council clinical and population cryogenics unit. In 1966 he was given the chair of medicine at the university and served as secretary to the Endocrine Research Council.

He was an expert in endocrinology and later started the metabolic unit at the WGH to study patients with such conditions a diabetes and obesity. Part of the team that helped to discover the chromosomal abnormalities that explained so called ‘intersex’ syndromes in which the person is born with or develops both male and female characteristics, he published widely on the topic. One of the most important contributions, co-written by P A Jacobs, was ‘A case of human intersexuality having a possible XXY sex-determining mechanism’ (Nature, 1959, 183, 302-3). Other papers, in the 100 plus he published, were on topics such as obesity and energy balance, thyroid disease, calcium and bone metabolism. He also jointly wrote a chapter on diseases of the endocrine system in the 11th edition of Davidson’s principles and practice of medicine (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1974), having similarly contributed to six earlier editions.

A member of the UK Medicines Commission (now part of the Commission on Human Medicines) from 1976 to 1983, he retired from his university and hospital posts in 1980 and was named professor emeritus the following year. Having been elected president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh for three years in 1979, he now had the freedom to apply himself to the tercentenary celebrations, hosting the visit of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1981 and visiting many other countries where he was made an honorary fellow of their colleges of physicians. He was particularly proud of his honorary fellowship of the Trinity College, Dublin. The driving force behind the College’s outstanding Queen Mother Conference Centre, he assiduously fund-raised on behalf of the Centre and the foundation stone was laid in 1994.

A keen oarsman when a student, he was a member of the unbeaten Dublin University Boat Club 2nd four in 1936 and in the Trinity College eight at Henley that year. In retirement he enjoyed golf and achieved his ‘hole in one’ in his eighties. He was a member of the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield. Fishing was another enthusiasm and he fished regularly with his brother in Ireland and on the River Tweed. With medical colleagues he went stalking in the Highlands near the village of Laggan. A student of national history, he also enjoyed music, photography and gardening, and retained a passionate interest in farming, and the family farm in Ireland in particular, all his life.

In 1939 he married Anne Frances Moira – always known as ‘Moira’ – née Heaney, whose father, Francis James Strong Heaney, was a surgeon. Moira was a distant cousin of his whom he met while working as a locum in Lancashire just before the Second World War broke out. She continued to practice for a while but later abandoned her career to care for her family. He cared for her devotedly in her last illness and she died in 1997. His final years were spent in an Edinburgh nursing home where carers described him as their most popular resident. He was survived by his children, Anthony, a retired neurosurgeon, Elizabeth, who was an antiquarian bookseller in Edinburgh, and Jane and their children and grandchildren.

RCP editor

[The Herald Scotland; The Scotsman; Moncton Combe School; Wikipedia - all accessed 20 November 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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