Lives of the fellows

John Bernard Hawkins

b.12 October 1932 d.19 July 2017 MRCS LRCP(1963) MB ChB Birm(1963) DCH(1965) MRCP(1967) FRCP(1979) MRCGP(1994)

John Bernard Hawkins was a consultant physician specialising in renal disease at East Birmingham Hospital. He was born in Worcester, the son of a timber merchant, Bernard, and his wife, Amy (née Simmons). After school at St Mary’s Convent and the Royal Grammar School Worcester, he went to board at Bryanston at the age of 13.

Bryanston was followed by National Service with the Royal Navy. Known as ‘Jim Hawkins’, it was not only his compact size that resembled the young fictional hero: he loved maritime adventure, was diligent, inquisitive and had the sense to understand when orders needed to be disobeyed. After National Service his bond with the sea was maintained with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). He went on to navigate the minesweeper HMS Venturer, in 1973 plotting her course across the Atlantic. On one occasion, preparing to set sail from a high security naval base during the Cold War, he went on patrol surveying the transits dressed as a Russian, sporting a three-quarter length leather coat, Astrakhan hat, red muffler, binoculars and a notebook. He was not detained. RNVR duties were followed by volunteering as a ship’s doctor aboard the Jubilee Sailing Trust vessels Lord Nelson and Tenacious.

Following National Service, John worked for his father and then trained with a timber merchant in Cardiff (Meggitt and Jones). Following this training, his family agreed to his wish to train in medicine and he entered Birmingham Medical School in 1958 after gaining an A-level in physics.

In 1959 he married Rosemary (née Squire). His meeting the young radiographer followed broken bones playing rugby. She was lured not only by John’s personality but by the prospect of driving around in an open top Morgan car – the first of seven.

A penniless medical student and now married, he sold the car and lived on a narrow boat named Thrombus moored behind Selly Oak Hospital. His first daughter, Pip, started life aboard, at times secured by her reins to the boat’s chimney. John and family came ashore in 1963 when he qualified with prizes in anatomy and surgery (the Begley prize). Three further daughters followed – Catherine, Bee and Abi.

From 1964 to 1966 John worked as a house physician at Kidderminster Hospital and at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital as a house surgeon and medical senior house officer. He then became a resident medical officer at the Children’s Hospital and a medical registrar at East Birmingham Hospital. As a junior he was heavily involved in writing and performing in Christmas mess productions.

Appointed as a consultant general physician and nephrologist to East Birmingham Hospital in 1970 he, alongside Brian Robinson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], developed the dialysis service. John was a dedicated physician, held in great affection by his patients and colleagues. He was energetic, enthusiastic, organised and daunted by nothing. The coffee break following a ward round was theatre time. While regaling the ward team with his off beat tales, he set about culling and reorganising the delapidated medical notes. He would, in addition, produce a pocket notebook to cross reference patient details and add further entries with his unmistakeable sepia ink pen. The meeting would end with a polite enquiry, heard in silence, about who would attend his Saturday morning round.

John ran the hospital journal club, taught medical students and later edited the Proceedings of the European Transplant and Dialysis Association. European meetings were reached by carefully navigating his latest Morgan to venues such as Budapest, Rome and Prague. The writing of numerous research papers, Royal College affairs and the developing management culture were not of interest to a man who drove a Morgan, turned wood and navigated the oceans.

It was in 1970, after appointment to a consultant post, that the family moved to the Old Vicarage in Shustoke. There was an expanse of water and The Griffin nearby, and St Cuthbert’s church next door, which facilitated his weekly attendance. He served as church warden and spent 30 years climbing into the tower to wind and maintain the clock. John and Rosemary sang in both the Atherstone Choral Society and the Midlands Festival Chorus.

John retired from his post at East Birmingham Hospital, by then renamed Birmingham Heartlands, in 1992. He had decided to have a turn at family medicine as a general practitioner. He was quite at home returning to a senior house officer role in obstetrics and gynaecology back at Heartlands. This he did to obtain accreditation in general practice and to prepare for the MRCGP examination. For almost 10 years he worked as a general practitioner in Kingsbury. As a GP he kept up contact with his physician colleagues at meetings of the West Midlands Physicians Association.

Aged 70, John was obliged to retire, but only to become a student again. This time he studied bookbinding at the University of Leicester – perhaps stimulated by earlier efforts to sort out patients’ medical records.

John died shortly after an intracerebral haemorrhage. He had had a small stroke six months earlier. He had always remained a devoted family man and good friend and colleague to many others. His energy and range of skills were extraordinary.

Roger Shinton

(Volume XII, page web)

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