Obituaries

David Geraint James

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6400 (Published 10 November 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6400
  1. Om P Sharma1,
  2. Alimuddin Zumla2,
  3. Correspondence to: O P Sharma osharma@usc.edu
  1. 1University College London Medical School
  2. 2University of California Los Angeles Medical Center

Devoted his professional life to sarcoidosis

In 1958 David Geraint James invited a group of national and international doctors to the Brompton Hospital for a meeting on sarcoidosis. The meeting lasted for three days. This was the first international conference on sarcoidosis; Gerry had sown the seeds of the movement that led to the formation of the World Association of Sarcoidosis and Other Granulomatous Disorders (WASOG) in 1987, in Milan, Italy. Gerry was its founder president. Soon after, with personal financial backing of Gianfranco Rizzato and with Gerry’s persistence, the journal Sarcoidosis became the official voice of WASOG.

David Geraint James was born on 2 January 1922 in Treherbert, Rhondda Valley, Wales. His father was a teacher and wrote a regular Welsh column for the national daily the Western Mail. From his father Gerry inherited his love for the Welsh language and Welsh heritage. By the age of 10 he had become an active member of Urdd Gobaith Cymru (Welsh League of Youth) and had developed a command of both Welsh and English. He could give speeches in both languages, play the organ, and play rugby. His interest in science made him move to Pontypridd County School, and throughout his life Gerry remained proud of his Welsh roots. In 1939 Gerry joined Jesus College, Cambridge. In June 1941 at the age of 19 he obtained a bachelors degree and honours in the national science tripos of anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry.

Fire watch

Gerry spent his final clinical year at the Middlesex Hospital, sharing in the horrors of the London Blitz and taking care of the many casualties it produced. With other students he transported patients to safe havens each night when the bombing began and helped with patients who needed treatment. When not transporting the wounded, Gerry volunteered to sit on roof tops and scan the city for fires. These hard times developed in Gerry a positive and optimistic outlook that enabled him to make lasting friendships with war bedraggled Londoners, nurses, patients, and above all his colleagues.

During those years he was touched by the aura of the great clinician Dr George Beaumont, senior physician and author of a popular textbook of medicine. Gerry became Beaumont’s house physician at both the Middlesex and Brompton Chest hospitals. In 1945 Gerry enlisted as a doctor for seven minesweepers and was stationed in the lead ship HMS Halcyon, whose assignment was to sweep the channel from Portsmouth to Calais so that boats could pass through. On demobilisation from the Royal Navy, Gerry returned to London to work as a house physician to Professor John Scadding at the Brompton. Scadding, an erudite and knowledgeable clinician, who had amassed a large number of sarcoidosis patients at the Hammersmith and the Brompton hest hospitals, instilled in Gerry the love and fascination for sarcoidosis. Gerry took up the challenge and started to study the disease. His relationship with sarcoidosis was to become lifelong.

At the Hammersmith Hospital, London, in 1949, Gerry met the young, brilliant Sheila Sherlock (later Dame Sheila), already a world renowned hepatologist. They married in 1951 and had two daughters. Their marriage lasted for 50 years, and from the day they exchanged their vows they understood their roles in moving their marriage, family, and careers forward.

Mecca for sarcoidologists

Gerry was appointed consultant physician and dean to the Royal Northern Hospital in Holloway, north London, on St David’s Day, 1 March 1959. Within months of his appointment to the hospital, Gerry started his sarcoidosis clinic, devoted to studying all aspects of the disease. He enjoined and encouraged clinicians, epidemiologists, pathologists, epidemiologists, and radiologists to work together to find the cause of sarcoidosis. These Monday afternoon clinics attracted pulmonary specialists from all over the world and for more than three decades remained a mecca for international sarcoidologists. They came to listen to Gerry and learn from his experience. He became known as the sarcoid king.

He was a superb teacher and helped hundreds of postgraduate students from all over the world; his speech was mellifluous and authoritative, and his pen precise and incisive. Audiences worldwide vouch for the former, and medical and lay readers are grateful for the latter. He wrote or edited seven books and about 1000 articles on sarcoidosis, medical history, general medicine, lung diseases, and various Welsh matters. He was a regular contributor to Sarcoidosis Vasculitis and Diffuse Lung Diseases, the Journal of Medical Biography, the Quarterly Medical Journal, the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, the BMJ, and the Lancet.

Gerry James was a consummate historian; Jonathan Hutchinson, William Osler, and William Harvey were his medical heroes about whom he wrote and lectured throughout his life. After the death of Sheila in 2001 he wrote daily on the lives of great men and women in medicine. His last two articles came out this spring in the Journal of Medical Biography.

David Geraint James died peacefully on 20 October 2010 in London. His persona embodied the best qualities of leader, mentor, loyal family man, and selfless, kind, dependable, and generous friend. The sarcoidosis movement has spread throughout the world and remains the legacy of Gerry James’s indomitable spirit.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6400

Footnotes

  • David Geraint (Gerry) James, sarcoidologist (b 1922; q 1944, Cambridge and Middlesex Hospital), died on 20 October 2010.

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