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Biographical entry Keen, John Asaria (1894 - 1969)

MRCS 1917; FRCS 1918; MB BS London 1917; LRCP 1917.

4 July 1894
7 October 1969
Anatomist and ENT surgeon


Keen was born on 4 July 1894 and qualified from Charing Cross Hospital Medical School during the first world war, and served as a medical officer in East Africa. After the war he obtained the FRCS, and practised as an ENT surgeon in Leicester for over fifteen years. He then diverted his career to anatomy, and after a short period of teaching at St Thomas's he moved to Cape Town where he became a senior lecturer. In 1951 he was appointed as the first occupant of the Chair of Anatomy at the University of Natal in Durban.

The author of several publications on ear, nose and throat surgery, he later made important contributions in anthropology, comparative anatomy, embryology and teratology, and was responsible for a revision of Ellis's Anatomy which was extensively used in South Africa. Professor Keen retired from his chair in 1959, and was succeeded by his elder son.

The next few years Keen spent in Switzerland, continuing some teaching in anatomy at the University of Lauzanne. In 1965 the Wessex Regional Hospital Board decided to establish a regional department of anatomy in connection with the basic medical sciences course which is held in Southampton for junior hospital staff in the region who are candidates for the Primary Fellowship in surgery or anaesthesia. A new unit was built as an extension of the department of morbid anatomy in the General Hospital and in 1966 Professor Keen became the first regional tutor in anatomy. The success of this venture has been in great measure due to the wisdom and devotion of Keen in developing a pattern for a job for which there were no guide lines.

On a day release basis he took forty postgraduates in anatomy and histology tutorials as well as individual young surgeons who came to him for revision tuition when studying for the Primary or Final Fellowship. His careful and beautiful prosections of parts and the whole cadaver were an essential part of his success as a first class teacher. This success can be measured not only in examination results but in the affection and esteem in which he was held by colleagues and junior staff alike. He was fully launched on the third year of his new work when he died on 7 October 1969 aged 75, survived by his wife and family.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Professor Shackleton; Brit med J 1970, 1, 178].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England