Lives of the fellows

James Thomas (Sir) Thomson

b.8 April 1923 d.20 July 2013
Kt(1991) CBE(1983) OBE(1978) MB ChB Glasg(1945) FRFPS Glasg(1949) MRCP(1950) MRCP Glasg(1962) FRCP Glasg(1964) FRCP(1969) FRCP Edin(1982) FRCPI(1983) Hon FACP(1983) Hon LLD Glasg(1988) DUniv Strathclyde(1997)

Sir James Thomas Thomson was a consultant physician and gastroenterologist at Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow, and a former president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Known as ‘T J’, he was born in Airdrie, a town just north of Glasgow, where his father, Thomas Thomson, was town clerk. His mother was Annie Jane Thomson née Grant. He was educated at Airdrie Academy and then went on to Glasgow University.

After qualifying MB ChB in 1945, he held resident and then registrar posts at Glasgow Royal Infirmary. In those days the resident virtually slept on the job in a room adjacent to the ward. On Sunday mornings the young nurse on duty would wake him up with a cup of tea. This nurse, Jess Shotbolt, was to become his devoted wife for 63 years following their marriage 1948. Following National Service in the RAF, he undertook various hospital posts before being appointed as a consultant physician at Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow, a post which he held until he retired.

These were the early days of subspecialisation. He developed a gastroenterology service and introduced to the hospital what was then the innovative technique of flexible endoscopy. He was highly regarded as a caring, compassionate and highly competent clinician. In addition to his clinical duties, he was a lecturer in the university department of materia medica. Not only was he a popular teacher of undergraduates, he also attracted postgraduates from overseas. He had educational links with Kuwait, Jordan and Libya, and played an advisory role in the early days of health care in Oman. In the 1960s he was one of a group who pioneered a medical education programme specifically for doctors on Scottish Television. In recognition of his standing as a teacher, the medical education centre at Stobhill has been named in his honour.

He was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of Edinburgh, London and Ireland. In 1983 he was awarded an honorary fellowship of the American College of Physicians. In 1988 Glasgow University, his alma mater, conferred on him an honorary LLD, and in 1997 he was made a doctor of the University of Strathclyde.

T J Thomson played a long and active role in the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. He served as a council member from 1959 to 1961, was honorary secretary from 1965 to 1973 and president from 1982 to 1984. During his presidency he had the privilege of hosting a visit from the Queen and later the Princess of Wales when she became patron.

His wise counsel was recognised by the number of national medical committees of which he was either chairman or a member. His management skills were recognised by his appointment as chairman of the Greater Glasgow Health Board, a role he held from 1987 to 1993. Subsequently he was a member of the court of the University of Strathclyde.

When you first met T J you could be excused for thinking he was aggressive and argumentative, however nothing could be further from the truth. He would play the devil's advocate, questioning everything, but always with a smile. His technique was to consider all angles to a problem to ensure that everything was considered and the appropriate conclusion was reached.

His long and sterling service to medicine was recognised by his being awarded an OBE in 1978 and a CBE in 1983. He was knighted in 1991.

Although deeply involved in medical affairs, his family was very important to him. His wife Jess was a great support and together they were the most generous of hosts. They took immense pride in their two sons and daughter, and family holidays at their cottage in Carradale on the Kintyre peninsula were particularly treasured.

Away from medicine, he was a man of faith. In 1954 he was ordained as an elder in Airdrie West Parish Church. On moving to Glasgow, he transferred to Wellington Church, where he was a loyal servant for many years until declining health limited his mobility.

Norman MacKay

[Herald Scotland 7 August 2013 – accessed 12 May 2016; The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh Obituaries Sir Thomas James Thomson – accessed 12 May 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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