Lives of the fellows

John Andrew Weaver

b.20 December 1923 d.16 June 2013
OBE(1989) MB BCh BAO Queen’s(1950) MD(1954) MRCP(1954) FRCP(1970)

John Weaver was a consultant physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. He was born on the family farm in Killyleagh, County Down, to William McClury Weaver and Emily Elizabeth Weaver née Patterson. When his father became seriously ill the family moved to Bangor, and John received his secondary education at Bangor Grammar School.

Immediately on leaving school in 1941 he joined the Army and, after training with a tank regiment in Catterick, was posted to India and selected for officer training. Though the Empire was under dire threat from the Japanese, his first lesson at cadet college was learning the proper etiquette for presenting his card. Commissioned into the 5th Royal Gurkha regiment, he volunteered for parachute service and in all made 27 jumps, most into the jungle. At the attack on Imphal his earlier experience of driving tanks landed him the job of transport officer, and he ended the war with the rank of major.

On his return to Belfast he read medicine at Queen’s University, graduating first in his year in 1950, having won the prestigious McQuitty and Coulter scholarships as an undergraduate. In 1954 he was awarded his MD with commendation and passed his MRCP examination.

In the midst of this he met and, in 1952, married Iris Margaret Eleanor Caughey, daughter of David and Florence Caughey. Their long and happy marriage was enriched by the births of Richard in 1953 and Jeremy in 1956. In 1956 the young family moved to the USA, where John took up a Medical Research Council fellowship to study endocrinology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. While there he also attended the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, a Manhattan Project site used in the wartime development of the atom bomb, but which postwar was concerned with the peaceful application of nuclear technology. He became proficient in the use of radioactive iodine for the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disorders, and led the way in setting up these services in Belfast on his return.

Appointed as a consultant physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital Belfast in 1959, he worked in the Sir George E Clark metabolic unit, which had been opened in 1958 by Charles Best [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.35], one of the discoverers of insulin. The unit was at that time unique in combining specialist outpatient and inpatient facilities in the same building for the management of diabetes and a spectrum of endocrine disorders, thereby allowing immediate access to nursing, laboratory and medical diabetes expertise at all times. This later became the norm in diabetes centres.

John’s clinical researches with David Hadden included early studies of heart attacks in type two diabetes patients, which led to the observational Belfast Diet Study – a precursor of the UK Prospective Diabetes Study, which has become one of the most quoted randomised clinical trials in diabetes care. The Belfast study had shown that stringent attention to diet could for a time control type two diabetes and that by five years the incidence of heart attack was reduced towards the same levels as that occurring in the general Northern Ireland population.

Throughout his career and in retirement John took a keen interest in the Royal Victoria, to which he was totally devoted.

In 1960 he became a founder member of the Corrigan Club, established ‘for the promotion of friendship among consultant physicians in Ireland’, with members from the main teaching hospitals in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It continued to meet annually throughout the Troubles at alternate venues north and south. A senator at Queen’s University, John himself was an active presence behind the scenes in the search for a solution to the civil unrest. He became one of the Corrigan Club’s early chairmen and was also president of the Ulster Medical Society. In 1988 he served as president of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland.

He was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for County Down in 1980 and was awarded an OBE in 1989.

He had a keen interest in military history and was encyclopaedic in his knowledge of the Second World War in the Middle and Far East. He and his wife maintained an abiding interest and affection for the Gurkhas, as well as for the various Army units posted to Northern Ireland and the local Ulster Defence Regiment. His own military service had other consequences for his peacetime career: always most reluctant to fly following his wartime parachute jumps, he was forced to make several epic road journeys to present his research at numerous medical meetings in Europe.

His other major interest outside medicine was book and antique collecting.

He died at the age of 90 after a long illness, and was survived by his wife Iris and his two sons, a microbiologist and a family doctor. As well as being a devoted family man, he will also long be remembered in Ulster as both a kindly and a wise physician.

Brew Atkinson

[Belfast Telegraph 12 July 2013 www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/Obituaries/dr-john-weaver-rvh-physician-eminent-doctor-who-made-27-parachute-jumps-in-wwii-29413973.html – accessed 21 January 2014; The Telegraph 6 August 2013; www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10226454/Dr-John-Weaver.html – accessed 21 January 2014;Brit.med.J., 2013 347 4856]

(Volume XII, page web)

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