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Biographical entry Robinson, James Oswald (1921 - 2000)

MRCS 1945; FRCS 1952; MB BCh Cambridge 1944; MChir 1955; MD 1957.

25 June 1921
Brisbane, Australia
19 April 2000
Anatomist and Urologist


James Robinson, formerly senior surgeon to St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, was born on 25 June 1921 in Brisbane, Australia. At an early age his parents moved to France, where his father, Ernest Longton Robinson, died in 1928. His mother, Mary Gordon Olive née Love, then married Rupert Shelton Corbett (a Barts surgeon). After a period at prep school in Sussex, James went to Charterhouse School from 1935 to 1939, before entering Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, for his pre-clinical training. His clinical years were spent during the war at St Bartholomew's, from which he qualified in 1944. After house appointments, he became Squadron Leader in the RAF until 1947.

He was a natural teacher, first of anatomy at the medical college of St Bartholomew's, where he edited the 9th edition of Rawling's Landmarks and surface markings of the human body (London, H K Lewis, 1953), before proceeding to his post-fellowship training as chief assistant to the late John Hosford and Sir Edward Tuckwell. At this period he was co-author of The diagnosis and management of urological cases - a handbook for students, residents and general practitioners, etc, (London, Bailliere, Tindall & Cox, 1955) with Bruce Pender, and also produced Modern urology for nurses (London, Heinemann Medical). He spent a year in the USA, from 1955 to 1956, at Ann Arbor, Michigan, as instructor in surgery with Frederick Coller and Reed Nesbit, before returning to the North Middlesex Hospital. Over the years he made many American friends, including Ben Eismann, professor of surgery in Denver, with whom he had several near-disastrous skiing trips; his love of that country was to prove life-long.

Appointed to the consultant staff of St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1958, he inspired numerous medical students by his superb teaching and relaxed, simple and well-ordered approach. Above all, he was noted for his courteous approach to patients and students, both in outpatients and on ward rounds. At times he admitted to frustration, "If only they answered a question 'I don't know'!" Life was never dull in his company; students on his firm enjoyed evening parties, usually in black tie, in hostelries up and down the Thames. He was devoted to the students, being President of the students' union for many years.

Unfailing loyalty to the hospital and medical college for a quarter of a century led to his becoming the youngest member of the board of governors. In this capacity he represented a rather restless group of younger consultants when change was inevitable. His chairmanship of committees, including the medical advisory committee and the medical council, was done with ease, being both tactful and firm. A positive solution to difficult problems, without confrontation, occurred with James in the chair.

When Barts developed a new major accident plan, it was 'Jimmy', as he was affectionately known, who re-designed it and brought it into the twentieth century. Indeed he was at a hospital in Gerrards Cross when he heard of the Moorgate Underground disaster. He drove at high speed back to Barts, to be near the centre of action. He was a prime mover in establishing the Barts Research Development Trust.

He enjoyed the privilege of being on the consultant staff of King Edward Hospital for Officers, the Royal Masonic Hospital and Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. He was also honorary surgeon to St Dunstan's, the Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain and the Coram Foundation for Children.

James was a member of many societies, including the Travelling Surgical Society of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Medical Society of London, the Hunterian Society, and the Knights of the Round Table, to name but a few. He gained much pleasure by being elected to the Frederick Coller Surgical Society in the USA and becoming an honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Georgia Militia.

His Cambridge connections made a profound impact on him: he was for 18 years President of the Cambridge Medical Graduate's Club, after being secretary for many years. Although it is now a dining club, he steered the members into providing scholarships, by raising money for the regius professor of physic.

He married Pamela Chaerey in 1946 and they had a son, Michael, and a daughter, Caroline. After they divorced, he married Patricia Luxton. She died of cancer and sometime later Jimmy met and married Veronica, with whom he spent many happy years. In retirement he and Veronica moved to the USA, where he was appointed professor of medical history at the University of Texas, Dallas. He made many important contributions to the literature and lectured widely on medical and military history. They came back to the UK to live in Lymington in Hampshire. He enjoyed golf, tennis, photography and cabinet making, and took a great interest in the history of Lord Nelson. Dogged by cerebro-vascular problems, his locomotion and sight deteriorated, and he spent his last year in a nursing home, where he died on 19 April 2000.

N Alan Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from William Shand, Peggy Turner, Veronica Robinson; BMJ 2000 321 900, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England