Lives of the fellows

Alexander Paton

b.2 March 1924 d.12 September 2015
MB BS Lond(1947) MRCS LRCP(1947) MRCP(1951) MD(1958) FRCP(1967)

Alexander (‘Alex’) Paton was postgraduate dean for the North East Thames Region, a consultant physician in Haringey, London, and an expert on alcohol misuse. He was born in Allahabad, India. His father, Alexander Paton, was a colonel who had won the Military Cross; his mother, Isabel Sybil Emma Grimwood Mears, was the daughter of Sir Grimwood Mears, chief justice of the High Court of Allahabad. The Patons could trace their origins back to the west of Scotland in the late eighteenth century.

Paton was educated at Alleyn Court Preparatory School at Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, and then gained a scholarship to Canford School in Dorset. He went on to study medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School. In 1945, as a medical student, he volunteered to go to the Netherlands to help with famine relief, but was diverted to the concentration camp at Belsen. He later wrote about his experiences in the British Medical Journal (‘Mission to Belsen 1945’ Br Med J [Clin Res Ed] 1981;283:1656).

He returned to St Thomas’s and qualified in 1947, winning prizes as a student. He was a house physician at St Thomas’ Hospital to the professor of medicine, Owen de Wesselow [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.101] and then a house physician at Salisbury General Infirmary. From 1948 to 1950 he carried out his National Service in the RAMC in Trieste.

In April 1950 he became a resident medical officer at Salisbury, and then in April 1951 transferred to St Helier Hospital, as a medical registrar. From 1952 to 1953 he was a medical registrar to Sheila Sherlock [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.514] at the Postgraduate Medical School of London, and then, from 1953 to 1959, a senior registrar at St Thomas’. During this latter period, he held fellowships from the British Postgraduate Medical Federation and the Alexander Brown Coxe Memorial Fund to research neurogenic diabetes under C N H Long in the department of physiology at Yale.

In 1959 he was appointed as a consultant general physician at Dudley Road Hospital, Birmingham. His main task was emergency medicine, but he also started an endoscopy service and a 20-year prospective study of cirrhosis of the liver. He also taught medical students and candidates for the MRCP and, in 1962, became a clinical tutor.

In 1973, he spent a sabbatical year as a visiting professor at the medical school in Baghdad, Iraq.

In 1981, he returned to London, as postgraduate dean for the North East Thames Region and was responsible for overseeing training in five teaching hospitals and some 30 other hospitals. He was also a consultant at the Prince of Wales and St Ann’s hospitals in north London, where he saw patients with alcohol problems. He was also president of Haringey Advisory Group on Alcohol and the first chairman of the medical committee of Alcohol Concern.

Throughout his career he wrote articles for newspapers and medical journals, and did editorial work for the British Medical Journal for 50 years. He was a member of the journal’s writing workshops, led by the editor Stephen Lock, which taught at medical schools in the UK and abroad. He continued to publish articles and reviews into his eighties. His book ABC of alcohol (London, BMJ Publishing) went through four editions.

He was a member of the Association of Physicians and the Medical Research Society, and was secretary of the West Midlands Physicians Association for seven years. In London, Paton was a member of Haringey Health Authority. He was a medical member (later medical chairman) of the Pensions Appeal Tribunals, chaired the travelling fellowships committee of the King’s Fund, and was a medical member of the scholarship committee of the Wingate Foundation. At the Royal College of Physicians, he was an examiner, regional adviser and council member.

On retiring in 1987, he worked for three years at the addictions unit at the Warneford Hospital, Oxford.

Paton was a man of many interests. He enjoyed sport of all kinds, including real tennis (which he learnt at school), climbing, skiing and long distance walking. He travelled extensively, regularly visiting Italy and making two visits to Antarctica in his seventies. He also enjoyed classical music, the arts, photography, natural history and church architecture.

In 1947, he married Phyllis Ann Jennifer Pepys (known as Ann), who was descended from Samuel Pepys’ cousin and from Sir Lucas Pepys [Munk’s Roll, Vol.II, p.304], president of the Royal College of Physicians. She and a son, Charles, predeceased him. Paton was survived by his daughters, Clare and Rachel, his sons, Alex and Antony, ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

RCP editor

[The Guardian 27 September 2015 – accessed 29 August 2017; BMJ 2015 351 5123 – accessed 29 August 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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