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BMJ. 2007 July 21; 335(7611): 162.
PMCID: PMC1925175

Christopher John (“Jack”) Dewhurst

Teacher and cofounder of paediatric and adolescent gynaecology

The 20th century will be remembered in the history of medicine as having been blessed by some of the most outstanding men of all time. Jack Dewhurst will certainly be remembered as one of the doyens of obstetrics and gynaecology. Great men are a rarity. Many are gifted, many are gentlemen, some are modest. Jack Dewhurst encompassed all of these traits of greatness.

Jack was born in 1920 in Garstang, near Preston in Lancashire. He was the only son of John and Agnes Dewhurst, a market gardener and a district nurse. His father worked away from home during the week and his mother's commitment to nursing meant she was rarely at home. Jack recalled his childhood as being particularly lonely, and he was sent away to school to St Joseph's College in Dumfries.

During his childhood Jack was a very talented sportsman, but his sporting love was always cricket and he spent all of his summers at Fylde Cricket Club. At the age of 16 he scored a century for the senior team and took a hat trick in the same season. Cricket remained his sporting love for the rest of his life, but his academic talents managed to shine through, and in 1938 he gained a place at the University of Manchester to read medicine. In 1943 he qualified and incidentally achieved the accolade of being university billiard champion during those years. After six months working in a local hospital he joined the navy in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a surgeon lieutenant and joined a tank-landing ship. On D Day in 1944 he was part of the fleet of ships which left Portsmouth for the Normandy beaches, landing troops and tanks on Sword Beach and carrying the wounded back to Britain. In 1945 and 1946 he was on the battleship King George V. When the war was over he returned to Manchester. He had a brief experience doing paediatrics but soon realised that his interest was more in the mother than the child, and he trained as an obstetrician at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester between 1948 and 1951. In 1951 he became lecturer at the Jessop Hospital for Women in Sheffield, where he remained until 1967, ascending the academic tree as a senior lecturer and then reader. He was appointed to the chair in obstetrics and gynaecology at Queen Charlotte's Hospital in London in 1968, where he remained until his retirement in 1986.

During his years in Sheffield he developed a particular interest in intersex disorders and congenital abnormalities in children and adolescents, being the first obstetrician and gynaecologist to develop such an interest in the United Kingdom. He published his first book on the subject of gynaecological disorders in infants and children in 1963. In 1969 he published with Dr R R Gordon, a paediatrician, Intersex Disorders, which was then the definitive text on these subjects. As his reputation grew internationally, he stimulated two American gynaecologists, Vincent Capraro and John Huffman, to pursue similar interests and these three men founded the subspecialty internationally of paediatric and adolescent gynaecology. They created the world council and the first world congresses of paediatric and adolescent gynaecology.

Jack's first publication was in 1950, and he published 109 peer reviewed publications during his career. Throughout his career as an obstetrician and gynaecologist he became famous as a teacher and lecturer. He was considered by many to be one of the best lecturers in the world, and when asked the question whether lecturing came naturally to him, he admitted that in 1951 when he was appointed lecturer at the University of Sheffield, he had no idea how to lecture at all. He spent the next year attending lectures given by men he thought to be great lecturers and made notes on their style and technique. He found a number of common themes, which he translated into his own deliveries and thereafter became an outstanding speaker.

In 1951 on his first day in Sheffield he met his wife to be, Hazel. He was performing a caesarean section and she was giving the anaesthetic. Although pursuing a career in obstetrics and gynaecology, Jack did not let his passion for cricket wane, playing for six years at the highest club standard.

Jack was one of the most unselfish and generous men one could ever wish to meet, and this was not limited to his personal life. He was a tremendous supporter and inspiration to young obstetricians and gynaecologists and his ability to obtain the best from people is probably epitomised most by the fact that he had seven senior lecturers in his career, all of whom went on to become full professors in their own right. This is a unique record of any professor of obstetrics and gynaecology in the United Kingdom.

The respect and admiration that Jack generated culminated in his being appointed president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1975, and in 1977 he was knighted for his services to medicine. Jack's legacy to obstetrics and gynaecology will undoubtedly be his passion for imparting knowledge. In 1972 he published Integrated Obstetrics and Gynaecology for Postgraduates, a text which became and still is the standard text for all trainees in obstetrics and gynaecology. The seventh edition has just been published, still bearing his name.

In the latter part of his career, he became fascinated by history and published a book called Royal Confinements, which was a classic.

Jack married Hazel in 1952, and they had two sons and one daughter. As he had had such a lonely childhood himself he was completely dedicated to his family and despite travelling extensively never neglected his children. After retirement, he and Hazel decided to learn Italian but in true Dewhurst style: they did not do this by halves but gained a place at the University of Perugia where they were the oldest students by 30 years. Of course, he completed the course and became fluent in Italian. He had a passion for Italian Renaissance painting and was a deeply religious man. He was a devout Roman Catholic. He published a book on Saints and Sickness and he was able to recount the saints' days until his final illness.

As a person, Jack Dewhurst will be remembered as a real gentleman—a gentleman with enormous charisma. Anyone who knew or met Jack Dewhurst was privileged. He is survived by his wife, Hazel; two sons and a daughter; and six grandchildren.

Professor Sir Christopher John (“Jack”) Dewhurst, former president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (b 1920; q Manchester 1943; FRCSEd, FRCOG), died from bronchopneumonia and cerebral lymphoma on 1 December 2006.


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