Obituary: John Dawson

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THE QUALITIES which the surgeon John Dawson exhibited above all others were absolute honesty and an iron determination - and the courage to sustain them. His whole life and achievement can be seen in this light.

He was born in Leicester in 1932 and educated at Wyggeston Grammar School, Leicester, and at King's College Hospital Medical School, London, where he qualified in 1955. His National Service in the RAMC was spent in Libya and Cyprus.

At that time there were no formal surgical training schemes. The aspiring surgeon had to plan his own career, gaining the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons as well as seeking a registrar appointment to a leading surgeon practising in his chosen field. The competition for such posts was fierce, but Dawson was successful in gaining at first hand the training and support of two famous exemplars: Norman Tanner at St James' Hospital, Balham, and Edward (later Sir Edward) Muir at King's.

Their skill in diagnosis and practical surgery he imbibed to the full so that in 1963-64 he held a Nuffield Scholarship at Harvard. Recognition of his abilities resulted in his appointment as Consultant Surgeon to King's College Hospital in 1964 at the early age of 32 when most appointees to such posts were 38 years or older.

Thereafter his career fulfilled his early promise and the confidence placed in him by his mentors. Consultant appointments followed to Bromley Hospital (1967) and the King Edward VII Hospital for Officers (1975). He was an examiner for the universities of London and Cambridge and the Society of Apothecaries and a member of the Court of Examiners of the Royal College of Surgeons. In 1990, he was admitted to the livery of the Worshipful Company of Barbers of London.

In 1975 he was also appointed Surgeon to the Royal Household and subsequently Surgeon to the Queen in 1983. In 1990 he became Serjeant Surgeon to the Queen; a prestigious appointment which can be traced back to at least the reign of King Henry VIII. Also at this time, Dawson's brother Anthony was Physician to the Queen.

John Dawson realised fully the importance of surgical research and the duty of the surgeon to advance knowledge, to teach, and to travel so as to keep abreast with current practice and developments world-wide. In 1987 he was Sir Arthur Sims Travelling Professor to Australasia. He explored the problem of jaundice combined with renal failure as well as making contributions to the surgery of portal hypertension and diseases of the liver. His surgical expertise in this latter field furthered the development of the famous Liver Unit at King's.

Great surgeons, often good teachers, seek to endow future generations with their ideas. In pursuance of this tradition Dawson was elected Dean of the Faculty of Clinical Medicine and Dentistry to the King's Medical School from 1988 to 1992. Many King's graduates and surgical trainees world-wide have matured under his influence. He leaves an enduring legacy of example and endeavour to those who succeed him.

This successful career was rendered more remarkable when in 1991 he contracted the liver disease which was eventually to claim his life. The ever-increasing toll on his health from the disease and its treatment reduced the range of his activities but did not break his spirit. The passion to educate was undiminished. He ranged the country on behalf of the Royal College inspecting training schemes and endeavouring to improve their quality.

He resolutely pursued his love of travel, the theatre, reading and the cultivation of the garden, particularly his beloved clematis.

John Leonard Dawson, surgeon: born Leicester 30 September 1932; FRCS 1958; Surgeon, King's College Hospital 1964-94, Bromley Hospital 1967- 94, King Edward VII Hospital for Officers 1975-94; Surgeon to the Royal Household 1975-83, Surgeon to the Queen 1983-90, Serjeant Surgeon 1990- 91; Dean of the Faculty of Clinical Medicine, King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry 1988-92; CVO 1992; Fellow, King's College London 1995-99; married 1958 Rosemary Brundle (two sons, one daughter); died London 16 May 1999.

Comments