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Biographical entry Stewart, John Oscar Reginald (1922 - 2008)

MRCS and FRCS 1951; MB BCh BAO Belfast 1945; DMHSA.

2 November 1922
22 November 2008
General surgeon


John Oscar Reginald Stewart, known as ‘Oscar’, was one of three general surgeons serving the whole of Lincolnshire from Lincoln County Hospital in the days when no government targets had to be reached and, as a result, waiting lists were small.

He was born in Belfast on 2 November 1922. His father, J C P Stewart, was a civil servant and his mother Emilie (née Shaw), a housewife. After schooling at the Royal School Dungannon, County Tyrone, Oscar obtained his medical training at Queen’s University, Belfast. He admired many of his tutors, particularly Sir Ian Fraser. After qualification, house appointments followed at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, and were supplemented by a further house surgeon post at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford, and later at the Lancaster Royal Infirmary. As a surgical specialist he served in the RAF in Egypt, and then continued his surgical training in Sheffield as a surgical registrar. His definitive senior registrar training was obtained at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Cambridge with mentors such as Brian Truscott and John Withycombe.

Oscar married Mary Wilkie in 1959 and she continued her medical career as a community medical officer, schools and company doctor and magistrate for over 20 years. This, combined with looking after three children and supporting Oscar, led to a busy life.

As a true general surgeon, Oscar Stewart moved easily between endocrine, vascular, gastrointestinal and urological surgery, often on the same operating list, as did so many trained in that era. He had little time for sub-specialisation in the context of a busy hospital in the east of England. For years he ran the casualty department until an orthopaedic surgeon took over the ‘Dickensian’ premises.

Universally loved by colleagues, nurses and secretarial staff, he was renowned for his dedication and kindness and always held to the maxim “Never destroy hope”. Thus he helped as many as he could and comforted those he could not. Oscar’s meticulous surgical technique was passed on to many others and he was respected by the juniors who learned their craft from him. He never was one to suffer fools gladly and was at times thought to conduct his ward rounds rather like a figure played by James Robertson Justice, particularly after being invited to a Buckingham Palace garden party during his period as sheriff.

Oscar was elected city sheriff in 1988 and he and his wife occupied the post with great dignity. His impish sense of humour was displayed when he and the mayor paid an annual Christmas visit to Lincoln County Hospital. Oscar took great delight in wearing his ‘badge’ and armed himself with a water pistol: very few nurses escaped attention from the ‘sheriff of Lincoln’ during the visit! At other times he, with the rest of the medical staff and nurses, dressed up in pantomime clothes, to entertain patients, and then carve the turkeys and serve patients with Christmas lunch. No one suffered ill effects, but the advent of pre-cooked meals and ‘health and safety regulations’ stopped this ritual in Lincoln, as was the case in most provincial hospitals. No staff party was ever complete without Oscar encouraging the singing with a medley of popular tunes.

Very knowledgeable and interested in the history of medicine, in retirement Oscar Stewart pursued this as a hobby and gained a diploma in the subject from the Society of Apothecaries. He opened a medical museum at Lincoln County Hospital, which following his death was named the ‘Oscar Stewart Museum of Medical History’: it was officially opened by his son, James, a consultant physician. Oscar also served as president of the Lincoln Medical Society.

Oscar Stewart gained a great insight into civic buildings, and after he became sheriff of Lincoln he co-authored with Joe Cooke a book, The Stonebow and guildhall guide (1990), still available in the tourist centre in Castle Square, Lincoln. The sale of first batch of books repaid the £10,000 loaned by the city council and the proceeds continue to expand the mayor’s charity. Bound copies of the book are given to visiting VIPs.

Until he himself became chairman of the group staff committee, when meetings were drawing to a close, they were often enlivened by Oscar asking, under ‘any other business’, the question: “What can be done about consultant car parking at the front of the hospital!”

He leaves three children. Charles is a financial consultant with British Gas, Catherine is a housewife and James is a consultant gastroenterologist in Leicester. There are five grandchildren. He died on 22 November 2008. His wife, Mary, having predeceased him

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2008 336 335; Information from Aubrey Stewart; James Stewart; Ian Hutton; Brian Smith; Olive Smith; Lincoln City Council].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England