Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Whillis, James (1900 - 1955)

MRCS 12 February 1925; FRCS 9 June 1932; MB BS Durham 1922; MS 1925; MD 1933.

8 September 1900
27 January 1955


Born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 8 September 1900 son of C Whillis he was educated at Carlisle Grammar School and Newcastle Medical School, where he graduated with first-class honours and was awarded the Philipson scholarship; he served as demonstrator and then lecturer in anatomy. Whillis was appointed Reader in Anatomy at Guy's Hospital Medical School in 1935, but retained a keen interest in clinical medicine. He proved his administrative ability at the outbreak of war in 1939 when he helped to transform a nursing home and four houses near Tunbridge Wells into a residential medical school. Everything that could be moved from Guy's was transported under his guidance, and in six weeks the new school was functioning efficiently. When Professor T B Johnston retired in 1948 Whillis succeeed to the Chair of Anatomy, and was also made Director of the Department of Medical Illustration.

Whillis had a special interest in the anatomy of the living subject. He studied the movements concerned with swallowing and speech production, and was quick to grasp the opportunities which radiology and cinematography offered to record results. He made a special study of the practical aspects of proprioception and the problem of rehabilitation. For several years he paid monthly visits to the Ministry of Pensions hospital at Stoke Mandeville and to the Facio-maxillary Unit at East Grinstead. Whillis devised a prosthesis for cases of upper limb amputations, which utilised the currents generated in contracting muscles by the outflow from the proprioceptive cortical areas concerned.

He was invited to become chairman of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists in 1950, and in 1953 was chairman of the inaugural Congress of the World Confederation for Physical Therapy.

Whillis was a charming man, pleasant and easy to work with. He was a lucid lecturer who could make rapid clear drawings on the blackboard. Frank and outspoken when the occasion demanded, he was so sincere that he made no enemies.

In 1926 he married Dorothy Margaret Lee and they had one son Dr James Anthony Whillis. Whillis loved a game of golf and was interested in archaeology and antique furniture. He lived at St Denis, Seal, Kent and died after a short illness on 27 January 1955 aged 54.

Elementary anatomy and physiology London Churchill 1938; 3rd edition 1949.
Co-editor with Professor T B Johnston of Gray's Anatomy, 27th-31st editions, London, Longmans 1938-54.
Anatomy for dental students, with Professor M F Lucas Keene. London, Arnold 1950.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 29 January 1955 p 8 g, and 9 February p 10 b memorial service; Brit med J. 1955, 1, 359 with portrait and appreciation by W R Spurrell, and p 423 by T P Kilner; Lancet 1955, 1, 312 with portrait and appreciations by WSCC and T B Johnston; Ann Roy Coll Surg Engl. 1955, 16, 195-198 with portrait and appreciation by T B Johnston; J Anat. 1955, 89, 419-421 with portrait and appreciation by the same].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England