Lives of the fellows

John Charles Brocklehurst

b.31 May 1924 d.27 June 2013
CBE(1988) MB ChB Glasg(1947) MD(1950) FRFPS Glasg(1960) MRCP Edin(1961) MRCP Glasg(1962) FRCP Edin(1970) FRCP Glasg(1972) MSc Manch(1974)

John Charles Brocklehurst was the first professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Manchester, and a pioneer in the development of geriatrics as a specialty. He was born in Liverpool into a Baptist family. His father, the Harold John Brocklehurst, was an electrical engineer and a company director. His mother was Dorothy Brocklehurst. When he was four, the family moved to Glasgow. He was educated at Glasgow High School and then Ayr Academy, and went on to study medicine at Glasgow University. He qualified MB BS in 1947 and gained his MD with the Bellahouston gold medal in 1950.

He was a research fellow at Glasgow University, and then, from 1949 to 1951, he carried out his National Service in the RAMC, to the rank of major, mostly as a medical officer on board the troopship Medway. He held various junior posts between 1951 to 1955, and then joined the Grenfell Mission in Labrador, Canada, as a medical officer. The mission had been set up to help the poor with food, clothing and medical care.

In 1957 he returned to the UK and, until 1960, he held trainee appointments in general practice and general medicine. From 1961 to 1969 he was a consultant geriatrician in Bromley, Cray Valley and Sevenoaks. He was then a consultant at Guy’s. From 1970 he was appointed as professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Manchester, where he established the unit for biological ageing research, and pioneered the teaching of geriatric medicine. From 1978 to 1979 he was professor and chairman of the division of geriatric medicine, University of Saskatchewan. He retired from his Manchester professorship in 1990 and joined the Royal College of Physicians’ research unit. He finally retired in 1999, aged 75.

His Textbook of geriatric medicine and gerontology (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1973) has become a standard work in the specialty and is now in its seventh edition (now bearing his name in the title). His work established one of the fundamental ideas within geriatric medicine: that the biological impact of ageing could affect the presentation of disease. He had a particular expertise in incontinence in older people, the subject of his first book in 1951 (Incontinence in old people, etc Edinburgh, E & S Livingstone). He also made a significant contribution to our understanding of stroke, falls and nutrition in old age.

He was chairman of Age Concern England from 1973 to 1977 and then, from 1980, honorary vice president. He was president of the British Geriatrics Society from 1984 to 1986. At the Royal College of Physicians he was chairman of the geriatrics committee from 1986 to 1989 and then associate director of the research unit. He also chaired the RCP working party on incontinence.

He received many honours, including the CBE in 1988, the founders medal of the British Geriatrics Society and the Willard O Thompson gold medal from the American Geriatrics Society.

Outside medicine, he played the mandolin and was a talented artist.

In 1955 he married Susan née Engle, a nurse. She survived him, as did their three children, a daughter (Morag) and two sons (Paul and Neil), and four grandchildren.

RCP editor

[Manchester Medical Gazette, Nov 1971, 57(1) 26-28; The Guardian 17 July 2013 – accessed 15 November 2015; The Independent 15 September 2013 – accessed 15 November 2015; The Lancet 2013 382(9904) 21 – accessed 15 November 2015; The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh – accessed 15 November 2015; Age and Ageing 2013 42 666 – accessed 15 November 2015; BMJ 2013 347 5204]

(Volume XII, page web)

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