Obituary: John Barron

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The Independent Online
John Barron, plastic surgeon, born Napier New Zealand 23 December 1911, Director Wessex Regional Plastic and Maxillo-Facial unit Odstock Hospital Salisbury 1949- 76, died Salisbury 7 July 1992.

JOHN BARRON, as founder director of the Wessex Regional Plastic Surgery Unit, had an international reputation within his specialist field. In addition to his work in the UK, he also maintained the strong links with Yugoslavia that he had forged at the end of the war.

Barron was born in Napier, New Zealand, in 1911 and was educated in Hamilton and at Otago University, where he qualified in medicine in 1937. Always a man of boundless energy, he excelled at rugby football at university and was a rowing blue for three consecutive years. After opting for a career in surgery he travelled with his wife to London in 1938, where he followed in the footsteps of a series of New Zealanders who practised reconstructive surgery, including Sir Archibald MacIndoe. He also worked with Rainsford Mowlem at Hill End Hospital, St Albans, and later with Sir Harold Gillies at Rookstown House Hospital, Basingstoke.

The war brought its casualties which posed many reconstructive problems, but from an early stage Barron had a particular interest in hand and upper-limb injuries and their rehabilitation. In 1945 he was invited by the Foreign Office to take a British surgical team to Yugoslavia to give aid to Marshal Tito and his partisans, and he helped to set up a 120-bed hospital for reconstructive surgery in Belgrade. This was the beginning of a lifelong interest in Yugoslavia, where he returned virtually every year to lecture to and visit the surgeons that he had trained. In 1975 he received from Tito that country's highest award, the Yugoslav Flag with Golden Wreath, in recognition of his services. The following year the Barron Institute for Plastic Surgery was inaugurated at the University of Ljubljana and, although ill-health necessitated a reduction in the number of visits to that country in recent years, he maintained telephone contact with his friends there until a few days before his death.

Barron set up the Wessex Regional Plastic and Maxillo-Facial unit at Odstock Hospital in Salisbury - built by Americans at the beginning of the war - in 1949, and here he attracted trainee surgeons from all over the world. He published many scientific papers and at the same time entered into the medical life of Salisbury, helping with the organisation of hospital services and also the recreational activities which he realised were important for the morale of those in the hospital community. As president of the British Association of Plastic Surgeons, in 1953 he hosted in Salisbury the first meeting of that association to be held outside London. He was elected president again the year before he retired. He later became president of the British Society for the Surgery of the Hand and was equally involved in its affairs.

After his retirement in 1976, and with failing eyesight, Barron was senior author of a three-volume textbook Operative Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (1980) in which each chapter was accompanied by a relevant Leonardo da Vinci drawing. He received the honorary fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1975 and the honorary mastership of surgery of Southampton University in 1976.

In addition to his many surgical achievements, 'JB' had a warm and magnetic personality and found time always to encourage others whether they were his trainees or involved in some community project. In spite of his apparently boundless energy he required very little sleep, and mastered skills in cabinet-making, metal work and languages: his garden was a great source of joy to his wife and friends. In retirement his work for the local community in Fordingbridge was very considerable in spite of his own indifferent health. He was responsible for the twinning of his home town with Vimoutier in Normandy, where his linguistic skills were invaluable, and at the time of his death he was chairman or president of five local organisations including the Fordingbridge Hospital and Fordingbridge Society.