OBITUARY: Sir John Badenoch

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The Independent Online
John Badenoch was among the best of generalists, with a superb opinion across the whole field of medicine.

The son of a family doctor, he carried the ideals of general practice into his consultant work. Never neglecting clinical skills and the science of medicine, he brought to his patients a blend of family doctor wisdom and comfort, combined when necessary with the gravitas of an eminent consultant physician. He was by speciality a gastroenterologist, but his practice was much wider than that.

These qualities, apparently effortless, were underpinned by long hours of work with his patients and their families as well as at his desk. Equally at home with sick car workers from Cowley as with important personages in Oxford (and they with him), he had a natural talent for discovering covert consequences of an illness and in dealing with them. It was astonishing to his colleagues that he could combine all this with so much advisory and committee work at which he also excelled - locally in Oxford, for government departments, for the Royal College of Physicians and other medical schools. He was in demand as an examiner in medical trials and a key figure in the planning of new clinical schools in Cambridge and as far afield as Sultan Qabooe University in Oman.

All this combined with college and university responsibilities would have exhausted a lesser man. If such a load of labour and age did not wither him, he did sometimes look as though it had.

Badenoch came up to Oriel College, Oxford, in 1938 and attended the wartime Clinical School at the Radcliffe Infirmary. There he was awarded a prestigious Rockefeller Student's Fellowship which took him to Cornell Medical School in New York in 1941. His return took some three months, his ship repeatedly setting out and returning, with one episode of rescue from the icy Atlantic. He reappeared in Oxford with a hint of an American cadence in his speech to become Professor Leslie Witts's house physician in the Nuffield Department of Medicine in 1943 and to marry Anne Forster a year later.

Military service then separated them and took him as medical officer of the West African Rifles to Nigeria and the Gold Coast (Ghana) before his return to Sevenoaks in command of the military hospital there. After he was demobilised in 1948, his father's death led to a short period in the family practice at Leyton in London until he returned in 1949 to Witts's department as a Research Fellow.

There he joined Dr Sheila Callender in studying the problems of malabsorption from the gut. He made particular use of radio-isotopes in this work, which formed the basis of his Goulstonian lecture to the Royal College of Physicians in 1960.

He could have continued a fine career in academic medicine but was drawn instead to clinical work. His opinion became widely sought and this led to a move from the academic unit to an NHS consultantship in the United Oxford Hospitals in 1966. Before that he had made his mark as a teacher in the young clinical school as its Director of Studies between 1954 and 1965.

In the late 1960s and 1970s the demands on his time as a clinician were supplemented by an almost overwhelming load of committee work, on the Board of Governors of the United Oxford Hospitals, later the Area Health Authority, and most importantly on the planning committee of the New John Radcliffe Hospital.

His clinical practice remained a huge commitment in which his devoted patients were never allowed to be aware of the pressures under which he worked. Despite long hours, he always found time for family, for interests in photography and ornithology and for a pre-work ward round of the contents of his greenhouse usually beginning at 6am or earlier.

There were important contributions to the university too at this time. He became a Fellow of Merton College in 1965, its Subwarden in 1976-78 and Emeritus Fellow in 1987. He was Pro-Proctor of the university in 1967- 68, when his son James took his BA in law.

After his retirement in 1985 the pace hardly slackened. Badenoch served on the General Medical Council in the 1980s, as an urbane chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, of the committee of inquiry on the outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease in Stoke-on-Trent and of the Committee of the Department of Environment concerning contamination of water supplies by cryptosporidiosis. Generations of overseas doctors had reason to thank him for his care of their postgraduate teaching when he was the Hans Sloane Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

John Badenoch's family origins were in Badenoch country around the upper strata of the Spey and in Banffshire. He showed the characteristics of the best of the north-east Scot, thorough, infinitely patient, compassionate, wise and with a great human touch. He was at his happiest in the family home at Portsoy in Banffshire, where he is to be buried.

J. G. G. Ledingham

John Badenoch, physician: born 8 March 1920; Director, Clinical Studies, Oxford University 1954-65; Consultant Physician, Oxfordshire Health Authority 1956-85; University Lecturer in Medicine, Oxford University 1956-85; Kt 1984; Emeritus Fellow, Merton College, Oxford 1987; married 1944 Anne Forster (two sons, two daughters); died 16 January 1996.