Obituary: Ralph Johnson
Saturday 10 July 1993
THANKS to his extraordinary energy and terrier-like approach to any problem that came his way, Ralph Johnson managed to pack two quite different medical careers into his productive life.
After qualifying in medicine at Cambridge and University College Hospital, London, Johnson moved to Oxford as a research fellow, where he joined an artificial respiration unit, a field which, at that time, was still in its infancy. Many of the patients that he cared for had neurological diseases, and some had unexplained abnormalities of the control of their blood pressure. Together with John Spalding he engaged on a series of investigations, not only on the control of blood pressure but also of other functions regulated by the autonomic nervous system, including body temperature. The work, and related research of the degenerative diseases of the autonomic system which are common in the elderly, led to the publication of an important monograph, Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System, by Johnson and Spalding, in 1975.
When, in 1968, he moved to Glasgow as Senior Lecturer in Neurology, he expanded his work on chronic diseases of the nervous system and, together with his wife Gillian, published a valuable monograph on the problems of multiple sclerosis sufferers in Scotland. He maintained his interest in the autonomic nervous system over the years, and at the time of his death was preparing a new book on the subject, with DG Lambie.
In 1977 Johnson went to New Zealand to become Professor of Medicine at the University of Otago. It was here that he became interested in medical education and he held the post of Dean of the Medical Schoool for three consecutive periods. In 1986 he returned to Oxford as Director of Postgraduate Medical Education and Training, and to a Professorial Fellowship at Wadham College. Because of the reorganisation of the distribution of manpower in the National Health Service, this was a particularly difficult time for postgraduate deans. Johnson threw himself into rationalising the complexities of postgraduate training programmes for young doctors with his usual vigour. He was particularly concerned about their deficiencies in Great Britain and, just before his death, carried out an extremely thorough study of the plight of the pre-registration house staff in Oxford. And he was in the process of developing some revolutionary plans for training junior doctors and for developing new postgraduate teaching programmes in the Oxford Clinical School. As well as all this, he put his heart and soul into the life of Wadham was instrumental in developing the college's extremely successful appeal.
Johnson's achievements were widely recognised. He was appointed to prestigious visiting lectureships all over the world and was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for his contributions to neurological research. Latterly, he was a member of the General Medical Council, Chairman of the UK Conference of Postgraduate Medical Deans, and served on many national committees, including the Joint Consultants Committee of England and Wales and the Senior Consultants Conference of the UK. Although only in this last post for a few years, he has left behind an extremely well-organised medical postgraduate programme in Oxfordshire. With his extraordinary grasp of detail, he was a formidable committee member, and served the numerous institutions for which he worked with great loyalty.
In his early days Johnson sailed for Cambridge. Later he became a keen gardener and was creating a beautiful garden at his house near Oxford at the time of his death. He died after being stung by a swarm of bees while tending his hives.
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