Lives of the fellows

John Malcolm Evanson

b.18 May 1930 d.15 September 2015
BSc Manch(1954) MSc(1955) MB ChB(1957) MRCP(1959) FRCP(1970)

John Malcolm Evanson was a professor of medicine at the University of Manchester. The son of Harold Evanson, a clerk, and Phyllis Miriam Evanson née Stewart, he was born in Crewe, where he grew up and went to school. He lived there during the Blitz and even, aged 11, wrote a poem about the experience. A talented pupil and head boy at Crewe County Grammar School, he had to surmount a long illness – a pleural effusion caused by primary tuberculosis – which resulted in many months in an open-sided summerhouse at the bottom of the garden. Undaunted, and with only modest teaching assistance, he studied for his higher school certificate, achieving the results which took him to the University of Manchester medical school, where he started in October 1949.

At Manchester, he spent a year doing a BSc in physiology and a further year to gain an MSc, before returning to the medical course. His academic career, however, was already under way and he had published five papers on neurophysiological topics before qualifying with his MB ChB in 1957. He also collected three scholarships and seven student prizes; little wonder then that he joined the resident staff at Manchester Royal Infirmary as a house physician to Robert Platt [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.470], then president of the Royal College of Physicians, on a unit including a future president – Douglas Black [Munk’s Roll, Vol. XI, p.62]. From 1960 to 1961, he was a registrar in the Nuffield department of medicine at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. He then returned to Manchester.

As his career progressed, his research interest focused on rheumatoid arthritis and the roles of collagenase and mast cells in its development. He gained a Medical Research Council fellowship in 1966 and spent a year in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital. After returning to Britain, he became, a few years later, the first professor of medicine at the new teaching hospital in south Manchester. There, working with David Woolley, he built up a highly-regarded research team. All in all, he and his collaborators published 59 papers in a wide variety of books and prestigious journals. In 1979, he became dean of the medical school at a time of much development, a post he held until 1982.

A career that many would regard as a full-time occupation did not hinder his sporting interests. He played squash competitively, mainly at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club, into his seventies and often two or three times a week. However, there was a social as well as an athletic context, and he and his opponent would often have a pint of bitter just outside the court, the better to keep up the pace of the game.

In 1959 he married Elizabeth Frances ‘Betty’ Hurley, a doctor, but the marriage proved less robust than either of the partners and they divorced. Their two daughters, Jane and Rebecca, both became doctors. Several years after the divorce, John remarried, to Clare, a childhood sweetheart, and they lived happily together for several years in his retirement.

In his last years, after Clare had died, he developed a pharyngeal cancer which, together with the radiotherapy he received, proved a severe burden – restricting his oral intake to ice cream and beer. Living alone, but with a fond, attentive carer, he slowly became housebound. His spirited view of life, however, never deserted him; he lived life thoroughly to the end. He was survived by his two daughters and three grandchildren, Freddie, Georgia and Oscar.

I B Houston

(Volume XII, page web)

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