James Ralph Hudson, ophthalmologist: born New Britain, Connecticut 16 February 1916; Clinical Assistant, Moorfields Eye Hospital 1947, House Surgeon 1947-49, Senior Resident Officer 1949, Chief Clinical Assistant 1950-56, Surgeon 1956-81; Ophthalmic Surgeon, West Middlesex Hospital 1953-59; Ophthalmic Surgeon, Mount Vernon Hospital 1953-59; Ophthalmic Surgeon, Guy's Hospital 1963-76; teacher of ophthalmology, Institute of Ophthalmology, London University 1961-81; Consultant Adviser in Ophthalmology, Department of Health and Social Security 1969-82; CBE 1976; married 1946 Margaret Oulpé (two sons, two daughters); died London 30 December 2003.
A most competent general eye surgeon, an expert in surgical technique rather than an innovator, and in an era when sub-specialisation within ophthalmology was still fairly new, James Hudson chose to devote most of his time to the diagnosis and management of retinal detachment. It was in this field that he made his name and reputation, numbering the Duke of Windsor among his many surgical patients. For 25 years he presided over the Retinal Unit at the High Holborn branch of Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
Hudson was born into an English family in Connecticut in 1916, and came to England when he was 12. He was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and the Middlesex Hospital, where he was awarded the Edmund Davis Exhibition. He qualified in 1939 and during the Second World War served as a medical officer in the RAFVR Medical Service rising to the rank of Squadron Leader. In 1947 he joined the staff of Moorfields Eye Hospital, first as a clinical assistant and later as a house surgeon; he became Senior Resident Officer and then Chief Clinical Assistant.
After holding consultant posts at the West Middlesex and Mount Vernon hospitals he was appointed Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon to Moorfields in 1956 and remained on the staff until his retirement in 1981. Between 1963 and 1976 he was also Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon to Guy's Hospital and also held consultant posts at King Edward VII Hospital for Officers and at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth, London.
Retinal detachment is one of the more serious conditions of the eye and, if left untreated, can lead to permanent blindness. In the 1920s Jules Gonin in Lausanne found that spontaneous detachment was always associated with a hole or tear in the retina, and that successful closure of the hole allowed the retina to reattach.
But it was not until 30 years later, with the improvements in surgical and anaesthetic techniques and the advent of cryotherapy, light coagulation and lasers, that detachment operations began to achieve acceptable results. The success of surgery still relies heavily on the accurate localisation of the retinal break and this requires painstaking and often time-consuming examination of the eye. It is a skill that has to be learnt the hard way and is a difficult one to impart.
Hudson's unique and thorough methods of retinal examination and the meticulous recording of his findings set high standards for all who worked on the unit at Moorfields. The Wednesday Grand Retinal Round became one of the highlights of the week at the hospital. He taught by example and juniors quickly gained experience from him, learning also that the soft cough at the end of a case presentation meant that something was not altogether to JRH's liking.
His many non-clinical posts reflected his wide interest in national and international ophthalmology. He represented the speciality on the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and was President of the Faculty of Ophthalmologists. He was President of the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom and a member of the International Council of Ophthalmology. He was an examiner both for the Diploma and Fellowship of Ophthalmology - an outwardly fierce demeanour masking his innate kindness and sympathy towards the candidates.
Throughout his hospital career and for several years after his retirement from the NHS, Hudson ran a highly successful and fashionable private practice in Wimpole Street.
He was a long-standing and greatly respected member of the Société Française d'Ophtalmologie which he joined in 1950, and he represented the United Kingdom on several European ophthalmic committees. His international appointments gave him the opportunity to extensive travel, something he greatly enjoyed, and among his many other activities one post that also afforded him much pleasure was his honorary stewardship at Westminster Abbey for over 15 years.
He was fortunate to have the support of his wife Margaret, whom he married in 1946, and they had a wide circle of friends from all walks of life. Together the Hudsons provided a source of sympathetic advice, encouragement, counselling and hospitality - extending to popular New Year's Eve parties as well as rides in the Jensen - which enriched the lives of a generation of young eye doctors, many of whom owed their careers to JRH.
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