Jean Infield

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 03 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i5864
  1. Robert Saxton

Jean Infield was the product of an extraordinary family. Her father, Louis, an immigrant from Krakow, was an outstanding Cambridge mathematician and, later, senior civil servant. Significantly, in the light of Jean’s subsequent career, he was working at the Ministry of Health at the time of the birth of the NHS. Jean’s mother, Georgina Vandamm, came from an equally distinguished family who, in both London and New York, contributed in a legendary way to the world of showbusiness. Vivian Van Damm, her uncle, was the manager of the West End’s celebrated Windmill Theatre, and his sister, Florence, became a leading Broadway theatre photographer during the “Golden Age.” Her father’s cousin, Leopold Infeld, one of the most important physicists of the 20th century, was, for a time, one of Einstein’s research colleagues at Princeton, USA.

Jean was a product of the pathbreaking London Medical School for Women, which, by the time she was a student in the 1940s, was part of the Royal Free Hospital. Her practical nature and matter of fact attitude were evident in the story she used to relate, of when a V1 flying bomb struck the building—as though this were an everyday occurrence. She displayed an almost Buddhist-like attitude to all creatures, regularly coming to the rescue of spiders and other insects, saying that they deserved to be returned to their natural environment unharmed.

Having been an anatomy demonstrator for students, she later specialised in obstetrics and gynaecology, working at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital and also at the Cancer Hospital (Free), now the Royal Marsden. Although basically apolitical, she believed passionately in social justice and, for many years, ran clinics for the Family Planning Association on both sides of the Thames, in North Kensington and Walworth in south-east London—two of the original clinics set up by the pioneers Helena Wright and Marie Stopes. She was for some years medical officer of the Florence Nightingale Hospital for Women in Lisson Grove and also lectured weekly on anatomy to student teachers at the Royal Academy of Dancing.

In the early 1960s she had set up in private practice at 130 Harley Street, taking over Dr Helena Wright’s practice at the latter’s request. Later, she moved to 79 Harley Street. She never had a secretary or PA and would spend weekends doing accounts and sending out test reports herself, with all envelopes handwritten.

Latterly, Jean ran a family planning clinic at London’s University College Hospital and was a frequent lecturer at many venues, an activity that, on one occasion, took her to Hong Kong. Details are in the archive of the Wellcome Foundation, and she is now cited on the internet as a contributor to the BBC’s The Pill: Prescription for Revolution from the early 1990s.

She was a great diagnostician; in one instance, in relation to a family member who had been taken to the accident and emergency department, she offered, down the phone, what turned out to be the correct and quite complex diagnosis, while the hospital was still doing the scan.

Jean was married to Ian Saxton, a former army officer in the second world war and later barrister, for nearly 60 years. He predeceased her. She leaves their two children, Robert and Vivienne.

Senior community medical officer family planning unit Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, London (b 1925; q London 1947; MRCS Eng, FFFP), d 18 November 2015

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