Lives of the fellows

John Daniel McCrea

b.5 July 1950 d.28 March 2014
MB BCh BAO Belf(1976) MRCP(1980) MD(1984) T(M)(1991) FRCP(1996) FRCP Glasg(1998)

John McCrea was a consultant physician and rheumatologist in Cumbria. He was born in Belfast, the first of four sons. Two of his brothers followed him into medicine. His father, Daniel Francis McCrea, worked in the linen industry and his mother, Sara Frances McCrea, was a housewife. He completed his secondary education as a boarder at St MacNissi’s College on the Antrim coast road. He was a hardworking and diligent student, and was a popular and independent pupil. It was at St MacNissi’s that he developed attributes that were to remain with him for the rest of his life – an absolute determination to overcome any obstacle, a distaste for pomposity and hypocrisy, and a belief that everyone was equal and equally deserving.

John had wanted to be a doctor from an early age. He was devoted to his maternal grandmother, and her protracted and painful death from carcinoma of the pancreas made his determination to alleviate suffering even greater. He was an enthusiastic undergraduate student at Queen’s University Belfast, winning many prizes, and he was always at the top of his class.

He completed his postgraduate training in Northern Ireland and spent a year at the University of London at Hammersmith Hospital, followed by a further year in Sydney, Australia. He published numerous papers during this time, and was an avid teacher and presenter. He and his wife were both very seriously injured in the Kegworth air disaster on 8 January 1989, when an aeroplane flying between London and Belfast crashed into the M1 near Kegworth, Leicestershire. This resulted in a delay before he could take up his post as a consultant physician with a special interest in rheumatology at West Cumberland Hospital.

He worked in Cumbria until he took early retirement in 2009. He had a national reputation in the diagnosis and management of osteoporosis, and developed a highly rated bone densitometry service. He continued to lecture widely and was an enthusiastic and committed examiner for the MRCP (UK) clinical examination.

He met his wife Josephine (née Monaghan) when he joined the Glens of Antrim Rambling Club. They married in 1987, and their only child Sophia Catherine was born four years later. Their marriage was extremely close and they continued to enjoy walking in Cumbria right up until his sudden death. He was a devoted husband and father. Sophia was his joy in life and he followed her career with great pride.

As a person, John was forthright in his opinions and would never shrink from speaking his mind. He held very strong principles and a determination to stand up for what was right. These attributes had been fostered by the influence of our father and were honed as he completed his medical training in the context of the sectarian troubles which were besetting Northern Ireland at that time. He was a champion of the NHS and was a devoted clinician. He was thoughtful and considered in diagnosis, but believed it was imperative to be honest with his patients. They appreciated his honest and direct approach to their care, and scores of them became devoted to him. He found many of the changes inflicted laterally on the NHS difficult to bear, and it was with some relief that he decided to take retirement.

John always had a great sense of humour. He particularly enjoyed satire and was very quick witted and enjoyed nothing more than ‘a good argument’ with someone of like mind. He always enjoyed photography and this continued throughout his life. He would wait hours to get the best possible picture and his attention to detail was such that he could have made a very successful career in photography had he wished to do so. In his retirement, he took up playing the guitar and pursued this hobby with the same enthusiasm and determination which he brought to all aspects of his life.

He was also a great traveller and no journey was too arduous for him, including travelling through Russia on a bus at the height of the Cold War. On 23 March 2014, John and Josephine set off to drive to Newcastle airport. Sadly, they never arrived. John suffered a sudden cardiac event at the wheel of their car on the A69. The emergency services eventually resuscitated him and he was transferred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, but he never regained consciousness and he died five days later, with Josephine and Sophia at his side. In death as in life, he continued to think of others and, as he had wished, many of his organs were taken for transplantation.

John was a devout Catholic and was highly respected in his local community. His requiem Mass in his parish church was very well attended by many of his devoted patients, intent on paying their respects to the doctor who had helped them so much. Josephine discovered that for many years his patients had been secretly supplying him with gifts of his favourite weakness – cake!

John’s funeral and burial were very traditional, in keeping with a man of principle who enjoyed the simple things in life.

Paul McCrea

[BMJ 2014 348 3799]

(Volume XII, page web)

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