Lives of the fellows

Paul Anthony Bacon

b.3 May 1938 d.12 January 2018
BA Cantab(1959) BChir(1962) MB(1963) MRCP(1966) FRCP(1979)

Paul Bacon was the first professor of rheumatology in Birmingham UK and a great enthusiast for medicine, science, music and art. His parents were members of the Fabian Society and he always had left of centre leanings. He went to Leighton Park School, a Quaker school in Reading, where his passion for biology and botany was stimulated. This led him to break with the family actuarial tradition and choose medicine as a career. He went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he read medicine, then to St Bartholomew's Hospital to do his clinical training. After graduating, he was a junior physician in the cardiology unit at Barts, where he was introduced to the value of precise measurement.

From 1964 he was a research fellow at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in London. After four years he returned to Barts as a senior registrar and in 1971 he was awarded a Geigy travelling fellowship and spent a year in Carl M Pearson’s department at UCLA California working on measurement in animal models of arthritis.

He returned to the UK as a consultant rheumatologist at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in Bath. He quickly took over the empty lab in the basement and continued with the work he had been doing in UCLA on cellular immunity in the synovial tissue. In theory, this was just a sideline to his clinical work at the 100-bedded hospital and also at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, although the research became increasingly more important over time. He set up specialist clinics (for example, a systemic vasculitis clinic with research fellows) and collaborations with other specialities (including with pharmacologists at Bath University).

In 1981, the Arthritis Research Campaign endowed a chair of rheumatology in Birmingham, to which Paul was appointed. His 10-year plan was to stimulate the development of rheumatology in Birmingham and the West Midlands, and to develop a first class combined clinical and laboratory unit. He achieved this and much more. Collaboration with others both nationally and internationally underpinned all his work. Continuing his focus on the importance of measurement, he set up BILAG (the British Isles Lupus Assessment Group) in 1984 with others in the UK. In 1991, this became the SLICC (Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics) group, of which he was a founder member.

In 1988, he spent a sabbatical year at the National Institutes of Health in the States in the lab. This gave him renewed energy to pursue his work in Birmingham and continue with more collaborations with colleagues in Birmingham, Britain, across Europe, the USA and with India. He helped to develop BVAS (the Birmingham Vasculitis Activity Score), and set up paediatric rheumatology in Birmingham.

He stepped down from the chair in 2002 and established the Birmingham Arthritis Resource Centre, a charity run mainly by volunteers. Over his years as a clinician he identified a gap in provision of good patient education, which he wanted to redress. The charity offered help for arthritis sufferers, their families and carers, enabling them to learn about their disease and about self-management away from the hospital environment.

His other energies at this time were put into work with his Indian colleagues, helping develop research activity in India and developing a Takayasu Activity Score with them. He made many trips over there, sometimes with his wife to enjoy their passions for bird watching and temple visiting.

Over the years he was a good clinician and teacher of young doctors; he loved educating juniors and since his death many have expressed the huge sense of gratitude they have for his mentoring and leadership. He opened his house and provided hospitality to lots of foreign doctors, from a single night to several months and, in one case, for years. His real love was his drive through research to improve knowledge of the vascular diseases for the benefit of patients and he was a perfectionist in his academic work, always promoting precision of thought and word.

Despite great dedication to his work, Paul continued his own self-education in other domains throughout his life. He was interested in everything and always had strong views on matters such as politics, world affairs and religion, expecting others to be the same. He loved a good debate, even if he felt in his heart he was right. He and his wife Jean (née Leech) shared a love of jazz and classical music and supported new music ventures in Birmingham. They travelled an enormous amount, enjoying nature, new landscapes and architecture. Finally, in 2014, he and Jean moved away from Birmingham to the Lancashire countryside and a different life. He joined the Rotarians and took on the chair of the management trustees of the DanceSyndrome charity. He was able to bring his skills of getting grants and promoting patient education and self-management to help bring focus and recognition to the charity. He and Jean were able to devote a bit more time to walking the dog, bird-watching, music and theatre, although the garden always retained a very strong pull (at times to Jean’s frustration).

Paul was survived by his wife, five children/stepchildren (Emma, Tim, Sarah, Alison and Lucy) and nine grandchildren, Leo the dog, a beautiful garden and many happy memories.

Jean Bacon
Lucy Bacon

[British Society for Rheumatology Professor Paul Bacon obituary – accessed 12 June 2018; Rheumatology Vol.57, Issue 5, 1 May 2018, pp.943-5] – accessed 12 June 2018]

(Volume XII, page web)

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