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Biographical entry Wakeley, Sir John Cecil Nicholson (1926 - 2012)

Bt 1989; MRCS 1950; FRCS 1955; MB BS London 1950; LRCP 1950; FACS 1973.

27 August 1926
20 March 2012
General surgeon


Sir John Cecil Nicholson Wakeley was a consultant general surgeon in Cheshire. He was born in London on 27 August 1926, the first of three boys of Cecil Pembrey Grey Wakeley and Elizabeth Muriel Wakeley née Nicholson-Smith. At the time of John's birth, his father was a surgeon and on the staff at King's College, and was at the beginning of a highly influential career, which would see him become president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and made a baronet in 1952. From the start John was therefore immersed in the surgical life, and he himself summed up his childhood as 'life with father'. The influence of his father never left him throughout his clinical career.

Following school at Canford, John followed in his father's footsteps and became a medical student at King's College Hospital, qualifying in 1950. His medical school report records a keen student who was easy to teach. He won the Legg prize in surgical pathology and the Blair Bell prize in obstetrics and gynaecology.

His postgraduate career began as a pre-registration house officer to his father and then as a lecturer in anatomy, both at King's College. He won the Hallet prize in the primary examination of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1952. He then spent a year (between 1953 and 1954) as a squadron leader in the Royal Air Force, returning to the Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith, as a registrar and senior registrar.

In 1961 John was appointed as a general surgeon to the Royal Infirmary Chester. Here he developed a successful practice with a specific interest in breast and urological surgery. His neatness and attention to administrative detail would have delighted a modern manager. His careful note-keeping, beautiful handwriting in distinctive green ink and his same-day GP letters are an example to current medical administration.

During his surgical career he held many offices, including chief inspector for the City of London Special Constabulary, membership of the Liverpool Regional Hospital Board, honorary consultant adviser (civilian) to the RAF, and liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Barbers and the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. He was awarded the Cross of St John in 1958. He particularly cherished his election to the council of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1971.

His main interests outside surgery were wildlife and photography. His electric train collection was legendary.

John met June, a physiotherapist and daughter of Donald Leney, whilst working in London. They were married in 1954. They had three children, of whom he was immensely proud. Nicholas, the eldest, is a missionary in Albania. Charles is a consultant radiologist, but qualified in surgery and became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and of Edinburgh before taking up radiology, meaning three successive generations of Wakeleys have qualified in surgery. Amanda is an internationally renowned fashion designer.

John will be particularly missed for his wicked sense of humour and compassion. He died on 10 March 2012, aged 85.

Linda de Cossart

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from: BMJ 2012 345 4042].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England