Lives of the fellows

John Butler

b.28 November 1923 d.2 May 1992
MRCS LRCP(1946) MB ChB Birm(1946) MRCP(1951) MD(1957) FRCPE(1957) FRCP(1970)

John Butler was the son of Percival Williamson Butler, a school headmaster, and his wife Eileen Mabel née O’Callaghan. He was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, and educated at Holmwood preparatory school in Formby and King Edward VI, Birmingham. He studied medicine at the University of Birmingham and after graduation joined the RAMC in 1947 with the rank of lieutenant, being promoted to captain in 1948. He stayed in the RAMC until 1949, also serving as a ship’s surgeon in the merchant navy from 1946-47.

Following his stint in the RAMC, he worked as house physician to Peter Stradling and John Crofton, later Sir John, at Hammersmith Hospital. He was a registrar at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, from 1953-55 and was awarded a doctorate in 1957 for his thesis entitled ‘Lung mechanics’. From 1958-60 he was a lecturer in medicine at the University of Birmingham and an honorary consultant physician at Manchester Royal Infirmary. He had been awarded a Rockefeller travelling fellowship to the USA in 1958, where he worked with Arthur Dubois in Philadelphia, and on his return to England he became a senior lecturer in medicine at Manchester University medical school. He was also appointed honorary consultant physician at the Royal Infirmary, where he met and married his wife Marjorie.

In 1960 John was invited by Julius Comroe [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.105] to join the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of California in San Francisco. At that time this was the premier research group in pulmonary medicine. The Butlers moved to San Francisco and started their family there; they had five children - two daughters and three sons.

While at the CRI John was a prolific contributor to the scientific literature on a variety of pulmonary topics including factors affecting airway resistance in normal subjects and patients with obstructive respiratory disease, and other aspects of pulmonary function. It was during these years that John developed an interest in the pulmonary vasculature and he contributed several important papers on the distribution of vascular resistance in the normal lung.

In 1965 he was recruited to head the newly founded division of respiratory diseases at the University of Washington in Seattle. John Butler was also appointed the first professor in this division. He remained head of the division for the next 20 years and built it up from a one man band to its current level, with a full-time faculty of 28 and ancillary staff of 52 individuals. The group is recognized as a leader both in the clinical training of pulmonary physicians and in basic pulmonary research. The major reason for the success of the group can be attributed to John Butler’s interest in teaching research and his ability to foster research ideas among junior faculty. Several of his trainees now occupy prominent positions in pulmonary and critical care divisions around the USA, and in other countries world wide.

He was a pioneer in the studies of the bronchial circulation. His research group in Seattle initiated the studies in 1981 and under John’s guidance have continued to be productive. For his leadership role in this field, John was appointed the first president of the Da Vinci Society, an international society of researchers interested in the bronchial circulation. In later years, his research included developing the concept of a vascular waterfall in the human lung and delineating the role of alveolar and extra alveolar vessels in lung fluid exchange.

John Butler was a member of several professional societies and organizations including the American Thoracic Society, the American Physiological Society, the American Heart Association and the American Federation for Clinical Research. He served on the editorial boards of many journals and also as an ad hoc reviewer of manuscripts. During his years at the University of Washington, he was principal investigator on several NIH sponsored research projects and also on Pulmonary SCOR and Program Project grant research teams. He was a good administrator and was highly revered by his staff.

John was very much a family man with a strong love for his five children and one grandson. His eldest son followed him into medicine and is currently completing his training.

He had a personal interest in cardiorespiratory physiology as a ‘hobby and was also a sportsman and lover of the outdoors; being a keen hiker and skier and having recently taken up windsurfing. He had also been an avid glider since originally picking up the sport whilst in Germany in 1946 and he died due to a tragic accident while pursuing his favourite hobby.

S Lakshminarayan
L Hudson

[Brit.med.J., 1992,305,250]

(Volume IX, page 69)

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