Lives of the fellows

John Stephens Logan

b.26 October 1916 d.29 April 2016
MB BCh BAO Belf(1939) MD(1946) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1966)

John Stephens Logan (known as ‘Bunny’ throughout his life) was a consultant physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. He was born in the dispensary house in Ballynure, County Antrim. His father, John Beatty Logan, was a doctor; his mother, Catherine (‘Katie’) Logan née Holland, was a qualified nurse and midwife. His grandfather, William Logan, a general practitioner with an interest in obstetrics, worked for most of his professional life in Bingley, Yorkshire, and retired to a small farm at Knocknagulliagh near Whitehead, County Antrim.

Logan’s father, John Beatty Logan, died in 1918 of pandemic influenza having attended his brother Thomas Stratford Logan, an assistant medical superintendent at the Buckinghamshire County Asylum, Stone, near Aylesbury. Thomas had attended a cousin in Yorkshire with the illness and, although the cousin survived, Thomas died on 31 October and John on 21 November. John’s daughter, Logan’s sister, Joan Beatty Thomasina Logan [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, page web], was born a fortnight later. He left little money and no life insurance, although he did have a Saxon car. Katie sold this and with a sister bought a house in Willowbank Gardens, Belfast, where she kept boarders. The family were assisted by the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund Society of Ireland. In 1926, following the death at Knocknagulliagh of Mary Ellen Margaret Logan, also a doctor and the only daughter of William Logan, Katie and the children moved there. Here Logan found pleasure in the shape of the family library, a library to which he later added substantially.

He first attended Parkmount School, then moved in 1928 to the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. While there he had a polio-like paralysis of the soft palate and one leg, and during his convalescence one of the cows developed a similar illness. He stayed longer off school to look after her, getting her to turn to prevent pressure sores. Both made a good recovery. He gained distinctions in French, German and Spanish in his senior certificate, and a credit in Latin. He left school in 1933 at the end of lower sixth. He had not done science and, despite some last-minute tutoring, he failed the pre-registration examination needed for medicine at Queen’s University. He entered the faculty of science, however, and was able, after passing the first year examinations, to start medicine in 1934. He found anatomy interesting and exciting, but even better was the clinical work when it came: ‘We threw ourselves into the work of the hospital, roaming the wards and clinical classes by day and reading by night.’ He graduated from Queen’s University with second class honours in 1939. During his houseman’s year he met Mary Sinclair Thompson Irwin, a medical student on his ward. They were married in September 1940.

He had joined the Officers’ Training Corps when he entered Queen’s, and he regarded this as ‘one of the best things I ever did. It taught me a lot and knocked some corners off, there were many more to be knocked off later’. His first six months as a houseman were in medicine and, although he was keen to join up when war broke out, he felt he should get some surgical experience first. He was commissioned into the RAMC in June 1940 and was attached to the 14th Battalion, the Queen’s Royal Regiment. In September 1941 he exchanged to the 147th Field Ambulance based in Doagh, Country Antrim, as he and Mary were expecting their first baby in January 1942 (stillborn sadly). In February 1942 he was sent to India on secondment to the Indian Medical Service. He was advised to learn Urdu if he wanted to get on, so he bought Saihgal’s Hindustani grammar and after a few weeks he was able to issue simple commands. With time he became fluent, though with ‘an atrocious Punjabi accent’. In January 1945 he was given command of the 14th Indian Light Field Ambulance with the rank of lieutenant colonel. His time was occupied with tropical diseases, nutrition and man-management, and he waged a constant war against flies and maggots in the latrines. During one inspection, the deputy assistant director of hygiene commented with some surprise on the absence of flies. The unit’s hygiene officer replied: ‘Colonel Logan does not allow flies’. He was to recollect: ‘I worked very hard in the field ambulance and as hard after I came home and since. I was unlucky in that I never engaged in a battle.’ From April to June 1945, he had a temporary appointment as officiating assistant director of medical services, 14th Indian Division. He was a member of the Burma Star Association.

When he returned in October 1945, Mary, by now an acting squadron leader in the medical branch of the Royal Air Force, was still in uniform in England. They settled back to civilian life. He obtained ex-service trainee posts in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and the Royal Victoria Hospital. He took his MD by examination in 1946 and the MRCP in 1947. He always felt that the reason he passed the latter was Lord Moran’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.407] sympathy with ex-service candidates. He certainly remembered the then RCP secretary, Ina Cook [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.69], taking £31-10s off him as he left the room after the viva.

He was appointed as a casualty physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, in 1947 and sought training in rigid gastroscopy from the professor of surgery, Harold William Rodgers. By 1951 he had done about 100 independent examinations and was also doing about eight barium meals a week. With a Robert R Leathem travelling scholarship, he attended the graduate school of medicine of the University of Pennsylvania under Henry L Bockus from October 1950 until May 1951. He was impressed with many things, including weekly clinical conferences and the use of dictating machines, and on his return he ordered a Grundig (the first in the hospital) and initiated the physicians’ meeting in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

In June 1951 he was appointed as junior physician on wards one and two of the Royal, then became a senior physician in 1962. He would not have a senior registrar, and insisted appointments for senior house officers were for a year so that they could be properly trained. He worked hard on the ward, often being there in the evenings and at weekends. He had a busy domiciliary practice and a small private practice (the latter equipped with an X-ray screening set in the consulting room).

In 1968 he helped found the Ulster Society of Internal Medicine. He was a member of the Ulster Medical Society, the Bockus International Society of Gastroenterology, and the Association of Physicians. In 1979 he was appointed to the Medical Appeal Tribunal, and from 1986 was honorary archivist to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

He greatly admired Andrew George Malcolm, founder of the Belfast Clinical and Pathological Society, and made him the subject of his annual oration at the Royal Victoria Hospital in 1973 under the title ‘The working man of the profession’ (Ulster Med J. 1974;43[1]:22-32) – a title which reflected his own ethos. The deaths of his father and uncle were doubtless in his mind when he wrote his paper on Norman Joseph Ainley, who died from smallpox in the Bradford outbreak of 1962 (‘A memoir of Dr Norman Joseph Ainley [1924-1962], and a last look at smallpox and vaccination.’ Ulster Med J. 1993;62[2]:145-152).

In 1958 he was asked for his opinion in support of a flax worker who was suing his employer for lung damage due to flax dust, not then a recognised occupational disease. The case went to court and was successful – the first in Northern Ireland. He wrote to the Ministry of Health about it in October 1959 and a month later published his paper ‘Flax-dust byssinosis and chronic non-tuberculous chest disease in Belfast’ (Ulster Med J. 1959;28[1]:164-75). The following year the Ministry of Labour and National Insurance asked John Pemberton [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] to look into the problem.

Logan was a scholar and a thinker, always trying to determine where the truth lay. He had an excellent memory. He read regularly and deeply, and this continued until a few months before his death. Being a true general physician, he was interested in all aspects of medicine and he was also interested in his family history. He wrote over 30 papers, including one on the disability of red-green blindness from which he suffered. He retired in 1982 and spent much time working on the land at Knocknagulliagh. His wife Mary died in 1991 and thereafter he lived on his own, growing steadily frailer from the millennium onwards until his death in 2016. He left five children (two of whom are fellows of the RCP), nine grandchildren (four medically qualified) and five great-grandchildren. One grandson, James Alexander Logan, died in his second year at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

K R Logan
J I Logan

[Elwood, P. ‘John Pemberton and the flax industry in Northern Ireland.’ Ulster Med J. 2003;72[2]:98-102]

(Volume XII, page web)

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