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Biographical entry Hadfield, Geoffrey John (1923 - 2006)

CBE 1980; MRCS 1946; FRCS 1948; LRCP 1946; MB BS London 1947; MS 1954; LRCP 1946.

19 April 1923
Long Ashton, UK
26 December 2006
General surgeon


John Hadfield was an outstanding teacher and ambassador for British surgery. He was born in Long Ashton near Bristol on 19 April 1923. His family hailed from Plymouth. His father, Geoffrey Hadfield, was professor of pathology at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and later became the Sir William Collins professor of pathology and dean of the Institute of Basic Science in our College, for which he became FRCS ad eundem, after his three children had already passed the FRCS in the usual way. John’s mother was Sarah Victoria Eileen D’Arcy Irvine of Irvinstown, Northern Ireland. His elder sister Esmé was an ENT surgeon and his younger brother, James Irvine Havelock Hadfield, a general surgeon. He was educated at the Merchant Taylors’ School, where he won a prize for recitation of the 19th psalm, was coached in rugby football by K R J Saxton, the All Black, and developed the habit of wearing a bowler hat, which provided an effective means of identification when travelling abroad.

He completed his preclinical studies at Queen’s College, Cambridge, and went to London, to Bart’s, for his clinical work, where he was a dresser to Sir James Paterson Ross and Sir Geoffrey Keynes. After qualifying he became house surgeon to J B Hume, Harold Rogers and Alec Badenoch, was RMO at St Andrew’s Hospital, Dollis Hill, and demonstrator of anatomy at Bart’s. He passed the primary with ease in 1948 and the final a few weeks later, a feat which is said to have left Cave bereft of speech - a notable achievement. He did his National Service in the RAMC in Malaya, ending up commanding the 21 Field Surgical Unit in North Malaya.

He returned to Bart’s as research assistant on the surgical unit under John Kinmonth and then did a registrar post in Colchester under Ronald Reid, before going to Bristol Royal Infirmary as senior registrar to Milnes Walker, from which he gained the British Empire Cancer Campaign travelling fellowship to the New York Memorial Hospital. He returned to Bart’s as a senior lecturer in surgery under Paterson Ross, taking time to be a clinical assistant to Naunton Morgan and Henry Thompson at St Marks, until he was appointed consultant in general surgery at Stoke Mandeville. From 1960 to 1988 he was honorary surgical tutor at University College, London, where he built up an international reputation as a teacher of generations of house staff, registrars, and men and women attending the Penrose May course at our College.

He published extensively on a wide range of surgical topics, ranging from endocrinology through to urology, to cancer of the breast. In collaboration with Michael Hobsley he edited five volumes of Current surgical practice (London, Arnold), the royalties from which were used to set up a scholarship awarded on the basis of an MD or MS thesis. Together with Hobsley and Basil Morson, he wrote Pathology in surgical practice (London, Edward Arnold, 1985). He was on the editorial board of the British Journal of Surgery, and a member of many surgical associations both in England and Pakistan, which he visited regularly, and was honoured with the Sitara award.

When Rodney Smith became the first Penrose May tutor at the College, John Hadfield, Alan Parks and Felix Eastcott were course tutors, teaching in the College and arranging for young surgeons to visit their hospitals. John continued with this work long after the others had moved on, and in this way came to know a large number of surgeons, many of whom became distinguished in their own countries. Among these, Adibul Rizvi went on to become a world-famous urologist and transplant surgeon in Karachi. As a result of this John was invited to teach and examine all over the world and became the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards.

In the College he was Arris and Gale Lecturer in 1954, Hunterian Professor in 1959, Erasmus Wilson Demonstrator in 1969, a member of Council from 1971 to 1983, Arnott Demonstrator in 1972, Stanford Cade Memorial Lecturer in 1978 and vice president from 1982 to 1983. He served on the Court of Examiners from 1972 to 1978 and was its chairman from 1977 to 1978.

He was a keen Territorial, serving with the 17 London General Hospital then based on the Duke of York’s HQ, Chelsea, and later 219 Wessex City of Bath General Hospital as officer in charge of the surgical division and later as their honorary colonel.

A keen sailor until arthritis prevented him from climbing the mast, he taught his daughters to sail. After retirement he served as a sidesman in Exeter Cathedral for 17 years. In 1960 he married Beryl Sleigh, a Bart’s physiotherapist, by whom he had three daughters (Catherine Marian Elizabeth, Frances Margaret Rosemary and Patricia Mary). Frances is a staff nurse at St George’s. When he retired he moved to Devon, where he continued to sail and walk, and it was when he and Beryl were in the process of returning to London to live near one of their three daughters that he unexpectedly died on 26 December 2006.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England