Lives of the fellows

John Homer Wetherill

b.7 March 1937 d.25 August 2013
MB ChB Leeds(1959) MRCP(1965) FRCP(1981)

John Wetherill was a consultant physician in Dewsbury. He was born in Hexham, Northumberland, the only child of Edward Homer Wetherill, a Methodist minister, and his wife Edith. The middle name Homer does not refer to the Greek poet, but was John’s Lincolnshire paternal grandmother’s maiden name, which continues to be passed down the Wetherill line. John’s early life was peripatetic, but he settled in York with his mother at the age of seven, following his father’s death. He was educated locally and was then sent to Kingswood School in Bath, founded by John Wesley.

After leaving school, he attended Leeds University, where he won prizes for medicine and surgery. He held house posts in Leeds and York, and then joined the professorial medical unit at Leeds General Infirmary, first as a registrar and then as a tutor in medicine, working with Sir Ronald Tunbridge [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.513]. He was appointed as a consultant at Dewsbury in 1970, doubling the number of physicians there.

John was a strong supporter of the NHS and of the concept of a local medical community, and he played a large part in the establishment of the Dewsbury Postgraduate Medical Centre. He developed many firm medical friendships, in particular with general practitioners. His opinion and advice were much in demand, and his out-patient clinics were of heroic duration. By necessity and by inclination he was very much a general physician. A skilful diagnostician, he quickly earned the respect of his patients and of other doctors. To his junior staff, whom he taught by example, he was generous and kind, helpful and never threatening, and he was fastidious in his attempts to further their careers. He was a delightful colleague, always with a cheerful greeting and seemingly never weighed down by his enormous workload. His strong opinions were clearly stated. Almost nobody at the hospital knew that as a result of a sledging accident at age 16 he was blind in his right eye.

His medical notes were instantly recognisable as they were written in green ink. This trademark pigmentation radiated both authority and a freshness of approach. When green ink became unavailable locally, he travelled to a particular pen shop in York to replenish his supply.

He had a great interest in medical history, and his 1961 article in Medical History about the 19th century York Medical School, written when he was a house surgeon in York, remains the definitive account of that school (‘The York Medical School’ Med Hist. 1961 Jul;5:253-69). Early in his career he published on various other topics, including on the management of diabetes and reports of unusual cases.

During his undergraduate career he also trained and qualified as a Methodist lay preacher. He was encouraged in this endeavour after successfully volunteering to preach one Sunday when the visiting preacher failed to appear. Throughout his medical career John regularly conducted services; his sermons were particularly well regarded and a member of the congregation even recorded one for further study. His pulpit reputation was such that in 1986 he was chosen to preach at the service held in York Minster to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the British Diabetic Association. His strong guiding Christian faith never deserted him.

An omnivorous reader, he would regularly have four or five books on the go at a time. His favourite author was Charles Dickens, and he acquired a collection of over 100 volumes by or about Dickens. His Bible was emphatically the Authorized Version of 1611. He would seek out humorous snippets and send them to The Daily Telegraph for publication in the Peterborough column.

At home John was an excellent and sometimes too generous host, and the well-attended functions there were memorable occasions, with good food and fine wines. At his childhood home there had been a taboo on alcohol, but at John’s birth the attending midwife, being concerned about his breathing, called for brandy to be administered; a neighbour obliged with whisky, his initial libation.

He was fascinated by railways and steam locomotives. No opportunity would be missed of visiting the National Railway Museum in York, and he was completely in his element when he gave an after-dinner speech there, surrounded by the historic engines. He once travelled on the footplate of a locomotive between Leeds and Darlington under the guise of investigating problems which may arise for a driver or fireman with diabetes. He would frequently obtain the annual books containing all the national rail timetables, which he would study and enjoy using a magnifying glass.

He also enjoyed other means of travel – with a caravan and his family to the major cultural sites of Europe, by air to exotic distant locations accompanying his wife Diana when she attended conferences relating to her work as a forensic physician, and in later years he developed a liking for ocean cruising.

John was survived by his wife Diana (née Brocklehurst), also a Leeds medical graduate, and by their three sons, James, Philip and William, and three grandchildren.

Tom Kemp

[Yorkshire Post – accessed 17 December 2013]

(Volume XII, page web)

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