Lives of the fellows

Alan Montague Johnson

b.2 December 1921 d.11 December 2015
MB BS Lond(1946) MRCS LRCP(1946) MRCP(1952) MD(1953) FRCP(1967)

Alan Johnson was a pioneer of cardiology in the Wessex region, establishing both paediatric and adult practices single-handedly across the whole area for several years and founding one of the country’s most successful cardiac departments.

He was born in Oxford, the son of William Montague Johnson, a timber and builders’ merchant, and Winifreda Blanche Johnson née Phillips, the daughter of a brick maker and pipe manufacturers. He was educated at the City of Oxford High School, and then studied medicine at King’s College, London and Westminster Medical School, first in wartime Birmingham and then London. His final year was interrupted by miliary and cavitating pulmonary tuberculosis, which, in those pre-antibiotic times, took him a year to overcome. He qualified in 1946.

He spent the next nine years in general medicine, with a period in rheumatology which included a year as a research fellow at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York. He then trained in cardiology at Guy’s Hospital and the Institute of Cardiology, London as a lecturer and chief assistant to the director, Paul Wood [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.456], whose clinical acumen and wisdom he greatly admired and sought to emulate.

In 1962 he was appointed as the first full-time consultant cardiologist to the Wessex region and subsequently to the staff of King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst. In the days before echocardiography, he became widely known for his skill in the diagnosis of complex congenital heart disease; his cardiac surgical colleagues frequently undertook complex operations based largely upon his interpretation of clinical signs and simple intracardiac pressure measurements. He was joined by a second cardiologist in 1970 and the region’s first paediatric cardiologist in 1978.

He presented many papers before the British Cardiac Society and other learned societies, and published 60 papers in scientific journals, 11 as sole author. His chapter in The dying patient: the medical management of incurable and terminal illness (Lancaster, MTP, 1982), edited by Eric Wilkes [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], was especially well received for its empathy and insight into the end of life issues facing patients with cardiac disease. Between 1962 and his retirement in 1986 he was assistant editor of the British Heart Journal, a position he managed despite a heavy clinical workload.

His notable integrity and total absence of self-importance saw him serve on numerous regional and national committees, often in the chair. He was an adviser in cardiology to the chief medical officer at the Department of Health, liaision officer between the Department of Health and the British Cardiac Society and an adviser in cardiology to the London Health Planning Consortium.

He was above all a gifted clinician, diagnostician and teacher, employing humour, firmness of purpose, erudition and hard work in the treatment of his patients, in teaching and in many additional duties.

He was also a popular after dinner speaker and was frequently called into service for speeches at the weddings of his colleagues’ daughters. After retirement, he gave occasional talks to lay audiences on the work of a cardiologist, one of which was curtailed by a myocardial infarction of his own.

Beyond his work, he indulged in books, music, painting, caravanning and cycling in France, and seeing his large family. He had six episodes of coronary occlusion, the first one a year after retirement, and he had bypass surgery, first in Southampton in his own unit and later in Derriford Hospital, Plymouth.

His first wife Bobbie (Elsie Muriel née Mays), whom he married in 1947 died suddenly in 1993. A year later he married Frances, an old friend, who survived him, together with his two daughters and son from his first marriage, four stepchildren, eight grandchildren, two step grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

Peter Johnson

[BMJ 2015 351 6853 – accessed 18 December 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

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