Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Partridge, John Philip (1921 - 2013)

MRCS LRCP 1943; MB BS London 1944; FRCS 1951.

15 June 1921
Wymouth, Dorset
16 March 2013
General surgeon


John Partridge was a consultant surgeon at North Devon District Hospital, Barnstaple. He was born on 15 June 1921 in Weymouth, Dorset, the son of George James Partridge and his wife Gwendoline Partridge née Brewster Jones. George ('Jimmie') Partridge had served in the First World War as an officer in the 10th Sherwood Foresters, had been mentioned in despatches, and had been awarded the 1914-15 Star medal. He subsequently joined the Colonial Service and was based in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika, for 20 years. He was awarded an OBE in 1937. John's mother, born in Suva, Fiji, in 1888, was a founder member of Tiverton Golf Club and was responsible for John's lifelong love of the game. Her father, John Francis Jones, was a Church of England clergyman and his grandson John had strong religious convictions in his formative years.

In 1928 the family moved to Tiverton, principally as a result of the friendship between John's father and Gerry Hopblack, a housemaster at Blundell's School, a former fellow officer. Gerry was to become a major influence in John's early life. John was educated first at St Aubyn's Prep School, and then joined his brother David at Blundell's in 1934. John represented the school at both rugby and cricket, and continued his rugby career after winning a sports scholarship to St Mary's Hospital Medical School in 1939.

John's medical school education was influenced by the Second World War; medical students were involved in fire-watching from a vantage point in Praed Street and, with an urgent need for doctors, the students followed a shortened medical curriculum. John qualified MRCS LRCP in 1943 and MB BS in 1944, and immediately joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a surgeon lieutenant. Despite being plagued by sea sickness, he served on many ships, some of which were subsequently lost, and was fortunate to escape unscathed. He was posted to Hong Kong at the end of the war in Europe, and was eventually demobilised in Australia.

His first post war position was as a house surgeon in Northampton. This was followed in 1950 by a house surgeon/junior registrar appointment to D N Mathews at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. Strongly supported by his seniors, John was successful in obtaining a resident surgical officer post at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, passing his FRCS examination in 1951. John then distinguished himself as a surgical registrar at the Royal Northern Hospital, before returning to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital and Bristol hospitals (Southmead) as a senior registrar from 1953 to 1956. His interest in paediatric surgery led to a special attachment to St Mark's Hospital via Great Ormond Street, to learn more about complex rectal surgery. He subsequently published a paper on this topic with his colleague M H Gough ('Congenital abnormalities of the anus and rectum' Br J Surg. 1961 Jul;49:37-50).

It was as a young surgeon at Great Ormond Street that John met and, in May 1957, married a talented physician, Betty Burgess. Both enjoyed a vibrant social life, occupying married quarters at Great Ormond Street. They went on to have two sons - Robert and Phillip.

In 1958 John was appointed by the South East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board for two notional half-day sessions a week at the Children's Hospital, Sydenham, but he found himself with insufficient income to support his family. He was also concerned that possible further sessions would be in paediatric not general surgery. John was determined to be a general surgeon and was therefore pleased to accept the post of consultant general surgeon at the North Devon Infirmary in 1960, with assurances that a new district general hospital was to be built.

John joined David Stirk, a fellow Blundellian and graduate of St Mary's, in effectively a one in two rota, supported by general practioner surgeons and anaesthetists. The early years posed many professional challenges, both in terms of establishing modern surgical practice and obtaining skilled anaesthetic backup for a wide range of surgical procedures. John was able to persuade his friend Basil Muire to relinquish his post in Exeter to found the department of anaesthesia at the North Devon Infirmary. Basil was joined by Noel Harley and shortly afterwards by Patrick Brighten.

John's medical and nursing colleagues regarded him as 'easily approachable and a good teacher', 'a brilliant pair of hands' and 'always calm, highly competent, compassionate and caring'. His exceptional skill when operating on children was noted; pyloric stenosis, hypospadias, surgery for undescended testis and Spitz-Holter valve drainage of congenital hydrocephalus were all within his remit. When operating John was noted for his decorum, patience and politeness. He and his ward sister and staff had a great mutual respect for each other, creating a caring environment, benefiting both patients and staff. John's heavy out-patient workload, his willingness to readily respond to calls for domiciliary visits and provide colleagues with a timely and well-considered opinion, allowed him to create harmonious relationships between primary and secondary care. John chaired the north Devon division of the British Medical Association in 1971 and was president of the Surgical Club of South West England in 1980.

John's career in north Devon continued uninterrupted until his retirement in 1984, apart from 'a call to duty' in 1966, when he formed part of the Great Ormond Street-based paediatric team seconded to the children's hospital in Saigon. With little professional support John spent 16 months in Vietnam, completing 75 cleft lip and palate reconstructions, in addition to numerous other surgical procedures, before returning home with his family, avoiding the Tet Offensive of January 1968.

As captain of the Saunton Golf Club, John initiated an eponymous competition, the John Partridge Cup. In retirement he continued to carry his clubs into his late seventies, resisting attempts to introduce him to trolleys and buggies. John had a lifelong affection for yellow Labradors; five of his favoured breed accompanied him in unbroken succession from 1968 to 2006. John's family has sponsored the training of a guide dog puppy in his memory.

'J P', as he was affectionately known to colleagues, friends and family, made valued contributions throughout his long and distinguished professional lifetime, to medicine in general and surgery in particular. His pioneering efforts in modernising local surgical practice laid the foundation for further advances in subsequent years; the dedication and skill he showed in clinical practice was inspirational, and his kindness endeared him to all to whom he came into contact. John was a gifted surgeon, respected by his colleagues in primary and secondary care and much loved by his family and local community. A modest and unassuming demeanour, coupled with an outstanding ability to communicate with one and all and a healthy sense of humour, were the hallmarks of John's personality. J P had a strong sense of 'service before self' and an integrity and sense of personal responsibility which guided his professional and personal life.

In later life, John bore illness with a quiet dignity and courage. He survived a stroke and subsequent fractured femur; a re-fracture some years later proved to be a bridge too far. He died on 16 March 2013, aged 91, and was survived by his wife Betty, sister Gwenneth and two sons Robert and Phillip. He will be greatly missed and always remembered.

David R Harvey

Sources used to compile this entry: [Phillip Partridge; Betty Partridge; Alasdair H W Boyle].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England