Lives of the fellows

John Harwood Keen

b.2 December 1930 d.6 July 2012
MB BS Lond(1954) DCH(1959) DObst RCOG(1963) MRCP(1965) FRCP(1977)

John Keen was a consultant paediatrician in Manchester. He was born in Nottingham, the son of Albert Edwin Keen, a salesman in the lead trade, and Hilda Keen née Harwood. He attended Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire and undertook his medical training at University College and University College Hospital, London. After house posts in Birmingham and Swindon, he completed his National Service with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Hong Kong.

On his return to civilian life, he held junior posts in paediatrics at Sheffield Children’s Hospital (with R S Illingworth [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.259]), the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, and Westminster Children’s Hospital. In addition, he held junior posts in general medicine while studying for the MRCP and a senior house officer post in obstetrics when he was considering a career in general practice.

He decided to specialise in paediatrics and, in 1965, became a paediatric senior registrar in Manchester. In 1968 he was appointed as a consultant paediatrician at Booth Hall Hospital and North Manchester General Hospital. He remained in these roles until his retirement in 1990. During this period John held a post as an honorary lecturer in paediatrics at the University of Manchester.

Although John was, and remained, a general paediatrician, he was always alert to emerging areas of specialisation which needed to be developed. He would willingly take the lead and then graciously handover to others as the service became established. This wide scope is reflected in his publications, which include papers on neonatal convulsions, childhood burns, social paediatrics and rheumatology. He was medical coordinator, child abuse, for North Manchester, as well as the director of the jubilee children’s centre at Booth Hall Hospital. With the neurosurgeon Carys Bannister, he established a multiprofessional service for children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. He had a longstanding concern for children with visual problems and was a consultant paediatrician to the Royal National Institute for the Blind. His final contribution to the development of paediatric services in Manchester was the establishment of a paediatric rheumatology service. This grew out of the joint clinic he and his colleague, the rheumatologist Lennox Holt [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], established, which by his retirement had developed into a full regional service.

John gave his time, experience and skills to other professional roles. He was chair of the medical staff committee (equivalent to the present role of medical director). He was honorary treasurer of the Manchester Medical Society (from 1991 to 1995), secretary of the section of paediatrics (from 1972 to 1975) and president of the Manchester Paediatric Club (from 1989 to 1990). His presidential address reflected his great concern to understand parents and how they engaged with paediatric services.

His final contribution to the medical literature, in 1998, linked his final paediatric interest to a private passion. It was an historical vignette on Sir George Frederic Still [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.432] (‘George Frederic Still – registrar, Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital’ Br J Rheumatol. 1998 Nov;37[11]:1247). The address on the by-line of the article was ‘Ivelet, Richmond, North Yorkshire’. Fell walking was one of John’s great interests and for many years he had a cottage at Ivelet in Swaledale.

After his retirement, he and his wife Sue moved to Ivelet. John and Sue had married in 1974, after his first wife, Helen, tragically died in a road traffic accident. John and Sue were very welcoming and frequent hosts. John was an extremely generous person, and the way he made his cottage available to colleagues and friends was just one mark of his generosity. He was also an accomplished gardener and this too he could indulge and further develop when he moved to Swaledale. Perhaps the unequal struggle with the rabbits was a factor in his eventual move back to Manchester!

John was an accomplished woodworker and his grandchildren and the grandchildren of friends are still enjoying some of the toys he crafted. Sue shared John’s long and active retirement with him. John had a great interest in classical music, particularly opera, and this was often the focus of their many trips abroad. John was a committed family man who was happiest sharing his pride in the activities and achievements of his two sons, two daughters and 10 grandchildren. The move back to Manchester brought him closer to his children and grandchildren.

R J Postlethwaite

[Brit.med.J., 2013 346 912]

(Volume XII, page web)

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