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Biographical entry Lister, James (1923 - 2004)

MRCS and FRCS 1975; MB ChB Edinburgh 1945; MD 1972; FRCS Edinburgh 1950; FRCS Glasgow 1969.

1 March 1923
London, UK
9 May 2004
Paediatric surgeon


Jimmy Lister was an emeritus professor of paediatric surgery at the University of Liverpool and a former vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Born in London on 1 March 1923, the son of Thomas Lister, a chartered accountant, and Anna Rebecca Lister, two of his siblings – John and Ruth – also entered medicine. He was educated at St Paul’s School as a foundation scholar, and then went on to Edinburgh University, qualifying in 1945. He then served in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve for three years.

His training in Edinburgh and Dundee was followed by a year as Halstead research fellow at the University of Colorado, where he decided on a career in paediatric surgery. On returning to the UK, he went first to Great Ormond Street Hospital, as senior lecturer and honorary consultant.

In 1963 he became a consultant to the Children’s Hospital, Sheffield. In 1974 he was appointed to the newly established chair at the University of Liverpool, taking charge of the regional neonatal surgical unit at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, establishing an international reputation in neonatal surgery. Here his observations provided new insights into the pathogenesis and management of many life-threatening congenital disorders. Certainly his years in Liverpool were rewarded by a drop in mortality, from 30-40 per cent in the sixties, to less than 10 per cent.

His unit soon attracted many young surgeons from many parts of the world: his ‘boys and girls’, as they were called, became distinguished paediatric surgeons all over the world. He inspired bonds of friendship and loyalty, which he maintained for his lifetime. For all his pre-eminence, Jimmy Lister remained a gentle, modest and self-effacing man who had a ready smile for all those he met.

Many honours came his way. He was a council member and then vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and, as convenor of examinations, he was largely responsible for making major changes in the curriculum. He was President of the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons, who awarded him the Denis Browne gold medal. He chaired the Specialist Advisory Committee on Paediatric Surgery in the UK, and was vice-president of the World Federation of Associations of Paediatric Surgeons. He was recognised for his many contributions, gaining some 18 honorary fellowships of medical and surgical bodies worldwide.

His publications were many and included a major textbook Complications of paediatric surgery (London, Bailliere Tindall, 1986). He was also editor of Neonatal Surgery and associate editor of the Journal of Paediatric Surgery.

He was married to Greta née Redpath, whom he had met while he was in the Navy, and they had three daughters. His wife and one daughter, Diana, predeceased him. He retired to the Borders, where he found it easier to fulfil his commitments to the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He died on 9 May 2004.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2004 329 981; Surgeonsnews Oct 2004 vol.3 issue 4; The Times 16 June 2004, with portrait.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England