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Biographical entry Gleave, John Reginald Wallace (1925 - 2006)

MRCS and FRCS 1957; BM BCh Oxford 1950; MA Cambridge 1975; LRCP 1957.

6 April 1925
Walsall, Staffordshire, UK
6 August 2006


John Gleave was a consultant neurosurgeon at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, and an accomplished oarsman. He was born in Walsall, Staffordshire (now West Midlands), on 6 April 1925, the son of John Wallace Gleave, a priest, and his wife, Dorothy (née Littlefair). He was educated at Uppingham School, to which he won a scholarship in 1938. He then went to Magdalen College, Oxford, with an exhibition and took an honours degree in natural sciences, before completing his clinical studies at the Radcliffe Infirmary, where he won the Gask clinical prize in 1947.

His house jobs were at the Radcliffe Infirmary with A Cooke, A Elliott- Smith and Sir Hugh Cairns (with whom he had done an elective period as a student). Cairns, Nuffield Professor of Surgery at Oxford, had established the neurosurgical department at Oxford before the war. Gleave completed his National Service in the neurological unit at Wheatley Military Hospital. There he worked under the neurologist Ritchie Russell, Honor Smith (who had done important research on the treatment of meningitis with Cairns) and the neurosurgeon Walpole Lewin.

After his National Service, he became a registrar to the professorial surgical unit in Liverpool and then senior registrar in neurosurgery at Oxford. In 1962 he was appointed second consultant neurosurgeon at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, in the unit set up by Walpole Lewin. He remained there until his retirement in 1990. The department at Adenbrooke's became a large regional centre. When Lewin died in 1980, Gleave became the senior consultant and the department expanded with new appointments and the establishment of the Bayer chair of neurosurgery.

Gleave was a skilful general neurosurgeon with a special interest stereotaxic neurosurgery, which he advocated for the accurate diagnostic biopsy of intracranial lesions. In 1990, together with R Macfarlane, he wrote a paper, which suggested that, while urgent surgery for acute central disc protrusion with cauda equina compression was wise, the unfavourable prognosis of the condition was determined so early in the course of the disease that unless delay was shorter than was ordinarily possible, it did not greatly influence the outcome. This suggestion, which had clear medico-legal implications, was resisted in the United States, where the paper was rejected on principle. It was, however, published in this country.

Gleave was a fellow of St Edmund's College, Cambridge, from 1976 until 1990, praelector from 1982 to 2002, a tutor in neuroanatomy at Magdalene College between 1974 and 1992, and an examiner in surgery to the University of London from 1985 to 1991.

He was a notable sportsman. He represented Oxford University in fives and squash, and played rugby for Oxfordshire and the Royal Army Medical Corps, but his great sporting interest was rowing. He was in the Oxford VIII for three successive years, and was invited to try for the Olympic crew in 1948, but his father vetoed this. He then rowed for Leander in crews that were beaten only in the final at Henley of the Stewarts' cup and the Silver Goblets in 1948, but in 1949 won the Grand Challenge cup in record time. In 1979 he won a gold medal in the veteran coxed fours at the World Championships. He coached Lady Margaret crews at Cambridge for a number of years with enthusiasm and success.

Gleave was a classical scholar, accomplished in Latin and Greek. In retirement he undertook the translation of his own copy of Willis's Cerebri anatome, though he was unable to finish the last chapter because of illness. He married Anne Newbolt in 1953. There were six children. He died on 6 August 2006 from the effects of a carcinoma of the kidney.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Daily Telegraph 10 November 2006; information from T T King].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England