Lives of the fellows

Jean Mary Weddell

b.18 July 1928 d.10 March 2013
MB BS Lond(1953) MD(1972) MFCM(1972) FFCM(1977) FRCP(1999)

Jean Weddell was an early member of the Faculty of Community Medicine (later the Faculty of Public Health) who developed methods of postgraduate education in the field.

Jean was born in London to John Murray Weddell, a distinguished military surgeon, and Hilda Madeleine Weddell, a state registered nurse. She went to school at Benenden and entered St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in 1947 directly from school, one of the first female medical students admitted to St Thomas’s. Her fellow students were largely ex-servicemen and women. The female entry was particularly remarkable; one was a niece of Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister, another the daughter of the professor of surgery, while a third was an ex-assistant secretary at the Foreign Office. Jean was certainly undaunted by her contemporaries and was able to compete and hold her own.

While at Benenden she learnt to ring bells at St George’s Church, Benenden. This became an abiding hobby, which she continued while a medical student and after qualifying. She was ringing master of the Guild of Medical Ringers from 1974 to 1979 and vice president from 1979 onwards.

After qualifying in 1953 she held house posts at Chichester, Winchester and in the chest clinic at Hammersmith Hospital. The Korean War had just ended and Jean went to Korea with the charity Save the Children to help establish a children’s hospital. This was followed by a period in Jordan, for the same organisation, concentrating on the treatment of tuberculosis, particularly amongst the Bedouin. This was described in a paper in Tubercle (‘Out-patient and hospital treatment of tuberculous patients in south Jordan.’ Tubercle. 1964 Mar;45:26-35).

She was repatriated to the UK in the early 1960s with severe tuberculosis and admitted to Rhydlafar Hospital, near Cardiff, under the care of Archie Cochrane [Munk’s Roll Vol.VIII, p.95], professor of chest diseases at the Welsh National School of Medicine and honorary director of the Medical Research Council’s Epidemiological Research Unit (ERU) in Cardiff. To help allay Jean’s boredom while confined to bed rest, Archie involved her in the analysis of epidemiological data. Her interest in epidemiology was stimulated by this experience and, at the end of her treatment, she was recruited to join the ERU as a senior research fellow. She was involved in developing a computerised child health information system, improving cancer registration in south Wales, as well as in studies of perinatal care. But her most notable work while at the ERU was a randomised controlled trial of the treatment of varicose veins (‘Cost of treating varicose veins.’ Lancet. 1972 Dec 2;2[7788]:1191-2).

Following the closure of the ERU, she joined the department of community medicine at St Thomas’ Hospital as a senior lecturer in 1969. While at St Thomas’ she developed interests in health services research, publishing extensively on the use of registers and the evaluation of health services. She was responsible for the establishment of a stroke registry in the Frimley-Basingstoke area, one of the first in the world. This enabled rational policies to be introduced for this condition (Planning for stroke patients: a four year descriptive study of home and hospital care. London, HMSO, 1979).

Jean was an excellent lecturer, much in demand by the World Health Organization and other international agencies. This enabled her to travel widely to the United States, India, Belgium, Yugoslavia, the island of Curaçao, Russia and Italy. She also took part in a pioneering study of the acceptability of establishing a community centre (L’Arche) for the care of people with learning disabilities in a residential part of Lambeth.

During her time at St Thomas’ Jean helped to establish a course for the training, in service, of future community physicians, the Thames Consortium, which was started in 1972. In 1978 she left St Thomas’ to become a specialist in community medicine for information and planning at the North West Thames Regional Health Authority. This post enabled her to continue with the responsibility for helping to train the future specialists in community medicine (now public health). Very many trainees were grateful to her for the help she provided, particularly in bringing academic rigour to the execution of NHS-based projects necessary for the completion of part two of the Faculty membership examination. She was an excellent Faculty adviser for North West Thames during the 1980s, balancing a supportive and sympathetic approach to both colleagues and trainees with a very clear set of expectations. This role enabled her to draw together the different elements of her career in public health – academic, service and training – and she played an important part in the development of the specialty in North West Thames, as well as nationally. This was recognised by the Faculty of Public Health in 1998 with the award of the Wilfrid Harding prize.

On retirement in 1988 she became a much-valued steward and tour guide at Southwark Cathedral and the rebuilt London Globe Theatre. Jean’s neighbour was Canon Eric James, the writer, broadcaster and radical Anglican clergyman, with whom she shared a daily morning telephone call ‘to make sure they were both still alive’.

Jean had a son, Chris Gosden, shortly before leaving for Korea. He was adopted and moved with his new family to Australia. On his return to the UK as an adult he was determined to find Jean. Their reunion greatly enriched Jean’s life, as well as his family’s. Jean was inordinately proud of his appointment as professor of European archaeology and that of his wife, Jane, as professor of health, law and policy, both at Oxford University. She was very fond of her grandchildren, Emily and Jack, as they were of her, and Jean was delighted to see them grow up. After she retired Jean entered into a civil partnership with Wendy Cook.

Jean is remembered with great gratitude by countless public health practitioners who benefited from her help while training.

Walter Holland

[The Ringing World Obituaries Dr Jean M Weddell www.ringingworld.co.uk/news-articles/obituaries/1464-jean-weddell.html – accessed 18 December 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List