John Richard Humphrey Humphreys

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 06 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c7032
  1. Peter Warren,
  2. Alison Humphreys,
  3. Patrick Richmond,
  4. Michael Johnson,
  5. Veronika Sekules,
  6. Roger Gamble

John was different. He was witty and wise; a huge spirit, who radiated benevolence. After he died on the 16 October 2009, his vicar said, “It was a great joy for the congregation to sing Happy 80th Birthday to John in Church on the 11 October. It was a shock to have to announce the following Sunday that John had died in his sleep.”

The oration tributes (qv) from church, science, and the worlds of the arts, books, and music illustrate how dearly he was loved and missed by family, friends, and colleagues.

John was born on 11 October 1929 in Denham, Buckinghamshire. He studied at Bradfield College, and qualified from St Thomas’ Hospital, London, in 1955. He first worked as a ship’s doctor in the Merchant Navy, on ships to and from Argentina, when he was once chased around the deck by a knife-wielding seaman who had run amok.

He became colonial medical officer in British North Borneo in 1958, based in Kudat, from where he made expeditions into the interior to bring healthcare to the indigenous Rungus Dusun people, and investigated an outbreak of cholera on an offshore island. In Tawau, he was asked to patch up captured pirates so that they would be fit enough to stand trial and be hanged. He was also able to indulge his lifelong interest in natural history, plants, butterflies, birds, and shells.

In 1962 John became part of the Beaufort Medical Group of British North New Borneo and looked after workers on rubber and timber plantations. Additional duties included drinking pink gins in tropical sunsets, with isolated planters, on outstation verandahs fringed by bougainvillea, redolent of the short stories of Somerset Maugham.

In 1963 self-government was granted, and Malaysia was formed. It was also the year that John met Alison, …

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