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BMJ. 2007 June 16; 334(7606): 1278.
PMCID: PMC1892452

Josephine Alice Coreen Weatherall (née Ogston)

Collator of congenital anomalies

Born on 19 May 1922 in Kingston upon Thames, the fifth of six children, Jo Ogston studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1939 to 1945. Several placements before and after qualification led her to start her career in laboratory physiology. Married to a pharmacologist, Miles Weatherall (see previous obituary), in 1944, she first worked in physiology, including jointly publishing with Miles on the effect of dithiols on time to death in poisoned rats. She felt that her career fell into place by good fortune. The work she did on fetal physiology at the Nuffield Institute for Medical Research in Oxford between 1957 and 1959 laid a foundation for later epidemiological work on the identification and prevention of fetal anomalies.

Before moving more formally into epidemiology and medical statistics, Jo conducted health service research studies in the department of microbiology at Charing Cross Hospital, London, during 1960-2. This work included a controlled experimental study of the effectiveness of medicated soap in preventing hospital acquired infections, in which two of her school aged daughters gained valuable work experience rewrapping soaps in “blind” packaging.

In November 1963 Jo joined the department of medical statistics and epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as J F H Knight fellow. While there, she reviewed trends in morbidity and mortality attributed to various forms of thromboembolic disease. From 1965 she became a medical statistician in the medical statistics division of the General Register Office, which became the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in September 1970 and is now part of the Office for National Statistics. During this time, she worked on improvements in reporting and analysing deaths, both in confidential inquiries into maternal deaths and in multiple cause coding of deaths.

Jo contributed nationally and beyond on the epidemiology of congenital anomalies. She helped to establish a system for routine national reporting of congenital anomalies by birth attendants in England and Wales. In the mid-1960s, she was one of the founder members of the International Clearinghouse for Birth Defect Monitoring Systems, which is still doing high quality work in congenital anomalies. This work culminated in her role from 1978 to 1984 as the founding project leader of the European Register of Congenital Anomalies and Twins (EUROCAT), then based in Leuven, Belgium, and now in Belfast (http://eurocat.ulster.ac.uk/).

Throughout her career Jo was a loving teacher and friend to her children and grandchildren, taking time out of her career when necessary for them, and involving them in her work where it might give good experience.

Both Jo and her husband, Miles, entertained and shared their interest in good food and wine with family and friends, offering an open house to family and friends from around the world during their working life. The large garden at this home was an escape from work pressure for them and for many colleagues, and was a continuing joy in retirement. Until the later retirement years, when ill health and disability took hold, all of the work in the garden was proudly reported to be “graduate labour,” and mainly by Jo and Miles themselves. Both gave busy support to local fundraising for the Arthritis Research Campaign: the garden was opened for fundraising on more than one occasion. Jo also initiated a local group of shareholders to take over the village good food shop when the old bakery was threatened with closure.

Jo had always determined that she should decide about her own death. A living will and full time home carers allowed her discharge home from her last hospital admission and a peaceful death at home on 17 October 2006. She was cared for and survived by Miles, who was himself in poor health and followed her on 8 March 2007. They are survived by three daughters, Rosamund, Miranda, and Alison, and seven grandchildren.

Jo Weatherall, founding project leader of the European Register of Congenital Anomalies and Twins (EUROCAT) (b 1922; q Edinburgh 1945; BSc, FFCM), died from respiratory failure on 17 October 2006.

Notes

With help from Alison Robinson, Rosamund Weatherall, Bev Botting, Michel Lechat, Brian Furner, and many others


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