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Biographical entry Taylor, John Gibson (1918 - 2005)

MRCS 1941; FRCS 1947; MB BS London 1941; LRCP 1941.

8 June 1918
24 August 2005
Orthopaedic surgeon


John Gibson Taylor, known as ‘Ian’, was a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. He was born on 8 June 1918, three months before the end of the First World War, the only child of Scottish parents Kate and William Taylor. Ian’s father was an engineer employed at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment, Hampshire. Brought up in Fleet, Ian went to the local grammar school. Deciding on a medical career, he entered St Mary’s Hospital Medical School. Much of his time was spent at Amersham, where the medical school was evacuated during the Second World War.

After a year on the house, during which time he was house physician to Sir George Pickering, he joined the RNVR. His first posting was to the destroyer HMS Zetland, which hunted U-boats. After a year he served on HMS Vindex, an escort carrier. Through many hard winters over the next four years on the treacherous North Sea, the ship escorted convoys to Russia. He was discharged as a surgeon lieutenant commander in June 1946.

On demobilisation he returned to St Mary’s as a registrar to V H Ellis, the orthopaedic surgeon, who was soon joined by John Crawford Adams, with whom Ian retained a lifelong friendship. After passing the FRCS Ian became first assistant to the accident service at the John Radcliffe Hospital, being greatly influenced by Edgar Somerville, Robert Taylor and Joe Pennybacker, who taught Ian spinal surgery.

In 1954 he was appointed consultant orthopaedic surgeon in Norwich, joining Ken McKee and Richard Howard. The unit served not only Norwich but was also responsible for most of the orthopaedic and trauma services in Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Ian embraced the introduction of new methods of joint replacement, holding clinics with Neil Cardoe and Gilson Wenley for rheumatoid and other arthritic problems, at first in an old workhouse, St Michael’s Hospital in Aylsham. Later a stable block was converted into an operating theatre – much of the money raised by voluntary donations from the Norfolk community. In this unlikely setting Ian performed knee and metacarpo-phalangeal joint replacements.

Much sought-after as a teacher, he was involved with the rotation between Bart’s, Norwich and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, and encouraged many of his trainees to publish their first papers. In 1965 Sir Herbert Seddon asked him to help out in Nigera, where he spent several months.

In 1956 he met Fodhla Burnell, an anaesthetist. They were married a year later in Norwich Cathedral. They had many shared interests – sailing in the North Sea was one, a cottage in the Perthshire hills another. He was an accomplished skier, using this method of transport to get him to hospital during the hard winter of 1979. He was a keen member of the Percivall Pott Club and regularly attended meetings of the British Orthopaedic Association (BOA).

One of his last major trips abroad was to Murmansk in 2001. This commemorated the arrival of the first Russian convoy sent from the UK during the Second World War. Ian and others who had survived were welcomed by the Russians and given a medal of honour for the enormous risks taken 60 years previously.

Over his last few years he developed progressive muscle disease, and died on 24 August 2005.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Keith Tucker; BMJ 2006 332 182].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England