Joan Campbell Griffin

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 14 September 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4899
  1. Michael Griffin

Joan Campbell Griffin (née Dickinson) trained as a doctor in the early 1940s, at a time when it was still unusual for women to go into medicine. She studied at Durham University Medical School based in Newcastle where she was one of only 15 women in a class of 80. She started medical school with her twin brother, Peter, and like other female medical students, she was hardworking and diligent and keen to demonstrate that she was as able as any of her male counterparts. She qualified in 1944 and, in her last year at medical school, met her future husband, Selwyn Griffin, a thoracic surgeon, when he operated on her twin brother as an emergency for a bilateral spontaneous pneumothorax.

On graduating she did house jobs in London, and on 6 September 1947 she married Selwyn and supported him in the development of cardiothoracic surgery in the north east of England. Her interests were in obstetrics and gynaecology, and after bringing up three children—Anne, Valerie and Michael—she developed her own career, setting up the first family planning clinics in the north east, serving the Sunderland and Durham areas. This was in the early 1960s when there was a huge rise in unwanted pregnancies. She took on all barriers, religious and otherwise, and contributed hugely to gain the acceptance of contraception as it is in modern life. She was devoted to this career and, despite having radical surgery for breast cancer in 1963, she maintained her passion.

In addition to her commitment to the local NSPCC (of which she was chairman), she also gave 20 years to Sunderland magistrates, where she chaired the juvenile bench. She was tireless in her efforts to prevent young offenders from being put in prison and desperately wanted to help women prevent unwanted pregnancies and develop their careers. Despite being brought up in a time of austerity, she was extraordinarily open minded and passionate about all sport. She was a very accomplished tennis and hockey player and, despite the anxieties of Selwyn’s family, started annual skiing holidays in 1962. She adored family holidays in Trearddur Bay and watching her children and grandchildren on the sports fields.

In 1999 she contracted bacterial endocarditis, and the subsequent treatment caused damage to her balance. She was playing tennis three times a week at this stage, and this heralded a deterioration in her health, culminating in a heart valve replacement in 2005. She leaves her two daughters; her son, who is a surgeon; and seven grandchildren, one of whom is training in obstetrics.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h4899


  • Senior clinical medical officer (b 1922; q Durham University Medical School, Newcastle, 1944), d 29 July 2012.

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