Lives of the fellows

John Marshall

b.16 April 1922 d.21 February 2014
CBE(1990) MB ChB Manch(1946) MRCP(1948) MD(1951) DPM(1952) MRCP Edin(1956) FRCP Edin(1957) FRCP(1966) DSc(1981)

John Marshall spent the great majority of his 41-year medical career as a neurologist, becoming professor of clinical neurology at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, where he was one of four founding members of the cerebral blood flow group. He also served on the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control established by Pope John XXIII due to his expertise on natural family planning.

John was born in Bolton, the elder son of James Herbert Marshall, a warehouseman, and Bertha née Schofield. His secondary education was at Thornleigh College, Bolton. He studied medicine at the University of Manchester, where he met his wife, Eileen, who was nursing at Manchester Royal Infirmary. He graduated and married in 1946, remaining at Manchester Royal Infirmary in his junior posts between 1946 and 1949.

John did his National Service as a captain in the RAMC, starting in 1949. He continued in the RAMC Army Reserve until 1964, attaining the rank of lieutenant colonel. Returning to his civilian medical career, he became a registrar at the Maudsley Hospital, where he took his diploma in psychological medicine. The following years of John's career were itinerant. He held research fellowships at the National Hospital (from 1952 to 1953) and the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, (from 1953-54) and was then a senior lecturer in neurology at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (from 1954 to 1956). In 1956 he returned to the National Hospital, as a reader in clinical neurology, where he stayed for the rest of his career. He held the chair of clinical neurology there between 1971 and 1987 and was dean of the Institute of Neurology from 1982 to 1987. After he retired from clinical work his dedication to the work of the National Hospital led him to use his outstanding organisational abilities as general manager between 1987 and 1988.

It was at Queen Square that John developed his comprehensive knowledge of stroke medicine. In the early 1960s he was a founder member of the cerebral blood flow group whose work emphasised the role of CO2, oxygen and blood viscosity in cerebral blood flow. The group helped elucidate the role of thromboembolism in the pathogenesis of transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) and John went on to run controlled trials on the use of warfarin and aspirin for treatment and prophylaxis of TIAs.

He was a prolific writer, publishing over 200 journal articles, contributing to several textbooks and was a popular international speaker. He was very aware of the importance of post-stroke rehabilitation and was instrumental establishing the developing profession of speech therapy to the National.

John was a lifelong Catholic and worked voluntarily as the medical adviser and director of the natural family planning service of the Catholic Marriage Advisory Centre (now Marriage Care) for over 40 years. He wrote several books including Preparing for marriage (London, Darton, Longman & Todd, 1962) and ran a correspondence service teaching the use of the basal body temperature method of fertility control, for which he was awarded the papal honour of Knight of St Sylvester in 1962. Because of this expertise, in 1963 he was appointed by Pope John XXIII as one of six original members of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control tasked to consider all aspects of birth control. During his three years of service on the Commission he came to change his view, from supporting the Church's opposition to artificial means of contraception, to becoming a signatory of the final majority report in support of change. He was made a Knight of St Gregory by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

His reputation in the medical field led to calls for service in broader public fields. Following an Amnesty International Report in 1978 criticising police interrogation methods in Northern Ireland, he was appointed by the Secretary of State to the Committee of Inquiry into Police Interrogation Procedures, which reported in February 1979. From 1981 he was chairman of the Attendance Allowance Board and contributed to the field of medical ethics by serving on the Warnock Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology between 1982 and 1984, which led to the establishment of the current Regulatory Authority. He was awarded a CBE for these services in 1990.

Even after he retired he gave his time freely as chair of the Stroke Association and vice president of the Epilepsy Society. He touched so many people with his kindness and help that his circle of friends, grateful patients and colleagues, many of whom kept in touch, was enormous. He was active at his local church in Wimbledon and used his lecturing skills on behalf of the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development in local parishes. He continued to write, but found more time to pursue his other interests, including gardening, travelling and visiting English cathedrals.

Following the progress of his five children, Mike, Chris, Pat, Mo and Cathy, and his nine grandchildren remained his greatest interest. He became known as ‘Granjohn’ to them, a name which was increasingly used by his friends as the years passed. After his wife died in 2010 he suffered failing mobility and repeated TIAs. The excellent management of these was perhaps a testament to his life's work. With the support of his children he remained at home during his last days.

Christopher Marshall

[‘A controlled clinical trial of long-term anticoagulant therapy in cerebrovascular disease.’ Q J Med. 1960 Oct;29:597-609; ‘Effect of aspirin in amaurosis fugax.’ Lancet. 1971 Oct 2;2[7727]:743-4; ‘Foundations of modern stroke medicine: the British contribution in the 20th century’ ACNR 2013 2013;13:6:21-25]

(Volume XII, page web)

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