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Biographical entry Pearson, John Brian (1930 - 2011)

MB ChB Birmingham 1953; DObst RCOG 1955; FRCS 1961; FACS 1977.

29 July 1930
10 December 2011
General surgeon


Brian Pearson was a consultant general surgeon in Ilford, London. He could be described in terms of one of his interests: he was like a good wine, he improved over time. Unpretentious, with a soft trace of his Birmingham-derived accent, he had a sly sense of humour, and did not have all his other many virtues on show.

He was born in Smethwick near Birmingham on 29 July 1930. His father, Benjamin Clarence Pearson, was a grammar school English teacher who fought in the First and Second World Wars. Brian's mother was one of the first women to earn a BA degree at Leeds University and taught French. Brian had two non-identical twin brothers, Michael and David. David became a consultant anaesthetist.

Brain was educated at Loughborough Grammar School and then at King Edward VI School, Birmingham. He was then awarded a prestigious state scholarship to Birmingham Medical School. Qualifying in 1953, he became a house surgeon with Bryan Brooke at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham, before moving to Wolverhampton.

Brian then joined the RAMC, enlisting for a three-year short service commission in Germany. Returning to civilian life in Birmingham, he embarked on a career in surgery, disregarding a senior doctor's opinion that he lacked the required aggressiveness for a surgeon. As an anatomy demonstrator he created many of the dissections for illustrations in Lord Solly Zuckerman's anatomy text. He subsequently gained surgical registrarships in Birmingham and Leamington Spa, being influenced and inspired by Jack Collis and Arnold Gourevitch. To consolidate his practical knowledge, he worked from 1962 to 1963 as a registrar at the University College Hospital in Ibadan, Nigeria.

In 1967 Brian was appointed as a consultant surgeon with a special interest in colorectal diseases at the New Barking and Ilford Hospital, later King George Hospital, Ilford. From 1975 to 1977 he worked as a consultant surgeon at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

He was a skilful, universally admired and sought-after colorectal surgeon, but also expert in vascular surgery, though depressed by the often poor long-term results. He also had a special interest in oesophageal surgery - which often offers an even worse prognosis. One colleague, who particularly admired his clinical skills, also mentioned his operating speed, versatility, minimal blood loss, and the care he gave to all his patients. After formally reaching retirement age, he was induced to remain, working until 1998, before being replaced by two consultants.

He was an assiduous member of the colorectal section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and also a member of the Hunterian Society.

Brian met Adele Kelly, a nurse in Birmingham, and they were married at St Chad's Cathedral in February 1955. They had two sons, Simon and Michael, and a daughter, Sarah. Tragically, Adele suffered a stroke in the late 1970s. This deprived her of speech, except for her prayers. She became increasingly incapacitated. Brian cared for her devotedly throughout. Remarkably, he took her with him on extensive overseas tours, including to China and the Indian subcontinent, where she engaged with his friends and enjoyed the experiences under his unceasing attention. She lived until February 2000.

In September 2000 Brian married Angela Pollard, an outstanding former theatre sister, later a ward sister, who had also been widowed. She had been a long-time friend of Brian, Adele and of their children. Angela enthusiastically joined him in his love of theatre and music, while he admired the varied birds and animals she, the daughter of a veterinarian, regularly acquired. But he resisted active participation in riding to hounds!

As a teenager, Brian had been fascinated by, and constructed, marionettes, building a theatre in which to display them. He was a fencer in his university days and later enjoyed carpentry and stone carving, acquiring a well equipped workshop. In later life he had became deeply committed to opera and theatre. His knowledge and appreciation of opera was profound and his opinions on individual performances were always worth seeking. His comments were searching, but never unfairly critical. Brian kept a diary for 43 years, now passed to his son Michael.

In 2007 he was found to have prostatic carcinoma, already generalised at discovery. His fortitude in continuing to lead an active life through years of aggressive treatment was remarkable. He referred to any disabilities in matter-of-fact terms. We never heard him express any recriminations or appeals for sympathy. He continued to enjoy his normal cultural pursuits, right to the end. In spite of vigorous and sometimes experimental drug treatment still under trial, he was finally overcome, dying on 10 December 2011, at the age of 81.

Brian may or may not have expressed a view on how he wished to be remembered. Those of us who were privileged to be his friends know how we shall recollect him. He was an outstanding surgeon, a kind, gentle, highly intelligent and deeply cultured man - with a wonderful, sly, wicked, but never cruel, sense of humour. Albert Einstein exhorted us: 'Do not try to be a man of success but try to be a man of value.' Brian Pearson was truly a man of value.

R M Kirk

Sources used to compile this entry: [Sarah Pearson; Angela Pearson; David Pearson; Michael Madigan].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England