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Biographical entry Kinmonth, John Bernard (1916 - 1982)

MRCS 1938; FRCS 1941; MB BS 1938; LRCP 1938; Hon FRCR 1975; Hon FACS 1976.

9 May 1916
Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, Ireland
16 September 1982
General surgeon and Vascular surgeon


John Bernard Kinmonth, the elder son and eldest of four children of Dr George Henry Kinmonth and Delia Kinmonth (née Daly), was born on 9 May 1916 in Lisdoonvarna, County Clare, Ireland. As a result of the troubles the family migrated to England in 1920 when Dr Kinmonth set up his general practice in Dulwich. After education at Dulwich College Preparatory School and Dulwich College, where he passed the London First MB as an external student, John entered St Thomas's Hospital and qualified in 1938. Appointed as house surgeon there he then became surgical registrar and resident assistant surgeon before entering the RAF medical service as a surgical specialist in 1943 and attaining the rank of Wing-Commander.

After war service spent mainly in West Africa he returned to civilian life as a surgical research assistant at St Bartholomew's Hospital in 1947. There followed two years as a research fellow in Professor Churchill's department of the Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital. On returning from the USA he became assistant director of the surgical professorial unit at St Bartholomew's Hospital under Sir James Paterson Ross. In 1955 he was appointed surgeon to St Thomas's Hospital and director of the surgical professorial unit there in succession to Professor George Perkins who, though then an orthopaedic surgeon, had set up the unit after the second world war. Kinmonth had to overcome many problems, notably a lack of accommodation in his extensively war damaged hospital, but he always acknowledged the help and support which he then received from Norman Barrett.

During the ensuing years he made outstanding contributions to surgery, especially in the peripheral vascular field. However, he was also responsible for setting up the cardiopulmonary by-pass work which he was able to hand on as a going concern to his later appointed cardiac surgical colleagues. In 1962, in collaboration with two colleagues in the United States (Charles Rob of Rochester, New York, a former student contemporary, and Fiorindo Simeone of Boston) he published a combined work on vascular surgery. Presidency of the European Society of Cardiovascular Surgery followed in 1968, and of the Vascular Surgical Society of Great Britain in 1973. He was also Vice-President of the International Society of Cardiovascular Surgery and became an honorary member of surgical and vascular surgical societies and allied bodies in many overseas countries, notably Brazil, Ceylon, Denmark, France, Jamaica, Peru and the United States, and he had been consultant in vascular surgery to the RAF since 1957.

But it was for his seminal research and publications on the lymphatic vascular system that he earned international renown though at first many of his colleagues were slow to recognise the practical implications of his work. This brought recognition in the twice awarded Julius Mickle Fellowship of the University of London; the Asellius Medal of the International Society of Lymphology and honorary membership of that society. He had the distinction of being the first Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists in 1975 and became an Honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1976. He was also a member of the German Society of Lymphology and Freyer Medallist of University College, Galway. During this period he undertook many distinguished overseas lectureships, notably an Arthur Sims Commonwealth Travelling Professorship on behalf of the Royal Colleges when he and his wife visited India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1962-63. He was Arris and Gale Lecturer in 1953 and Hunterian Professor of the College in 1954, and was elected to Council in 1977.

During the last thirteen years of his life, intermittently at first and later more persistently, he was dogged by ill health due to recurrent pancreatitis which was long thought to be due to a benign stricture in the main pancreatic duct. He underwent three major operations before the diagnosis of pancreatic carcinoma was established by ERCP examination and biopsy. Few but his closest friends and colleagues were privy to all this, but during that period he published his pioneer book on the lymphatics in 1972 followed by a superb second edition a few months before his death.

Apart from his outstanding contributions to surgery he was a keen student of music and opera, and also of ornithology and photography. He and his brother had been introduced to sailing by an uncle at an early age; later in life, with his friend Dr Richard Warren of Boston, Massachusetts, he became joint owner of a Block Island fibreglass yawl in which he much enjoyed ocean cruising, a subject on which he wrote several articles. He was a reserved and strikingly handsome man whose guiding professional principles were patience and persistence in the pursuit of excellence. His younger brother, Maurice, also graduated from St Thomas's Hospital before his appointment as consultant plastic surgeon in Leicester. John had married Kathleen Godfrey, a daughter of Admiral W H Godfrey, in 1947 and they had two daughters and two sons, the elder of whom is medically qualified. He faced his last few years with dignity and courage and underwent a fourth laparotomy only a week before he died on 16 September 1982. He was survived by his brother and two sisters and by his wife and children. A memorial service was held in the Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, 10 November, 1982 and the address was given by Sir Reginald Murley, PPRCS.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1982, 285, 1052; Lancet 1982, 2, 778; The Times 21 September 1982].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England