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Biographical entry Golding, Sir John Simon Rawson (1921 - 1996)

Kt 1986; OBE 1959; MRCS 1944; FRCS 1949; MB BCh Cambridge 1944.

15 April 1921
23 March 1996
Orthopaedic surgeon


John Golding was born in London on 15 April 1921 and his early schooling was at Hilltop Court School, Seaford, and then Marlborough. From there he went to Caius College, Cambridge, and the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, graduating in 1944. He did his National Service in the RAMC and in 1946 was posted to the Middle East where, in Tobruk, he enjoyed being the only doctor within hundreds of miles. He returned to the Middlesex Hospital in 1948, training in orthopaedics there and also at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

In 1953 he accepted the post of senior lecturer in orthopaedic surgery at the newly-opened University College Hospital of the West Indies in Jamaica, seven miles outside Kingston. Six months after arriving on the island it was swept by a devastating epidemic of poliomyelitis, which affected about 1500 people. It was this event, and the realisation that the epidemic would leave a huge load of severely disabled people, together with his response to this challenge, that provided the grounding for Golding's unique reputation in Jamaica. With characteristic vigour, he set up a rehabilitation unit in a disused drama theatre, which in time became the Mona Rehabilitation Centre, serving the whole of the English-speaking Caribbean. Thus, after the epidemic had died down, the need for the centre remained to treat people paralysed in road traffic accidents or by gunshot wounds.

In 1956 he was one of five British orthopaedic surgeons who were invited to make a tour of the United States and Canada, and in 1959 he was appointed OBE. He lectured in many different countries and visited Haiti to work no fewer than sixteen times. He was a founder member of World Orthopaedic Concern and later its Secretary General. For his services to orthopaedics he was awarded the Order of Jamaica, the highest decoration that the country can give, and he was knighted in 1986. He established the Hope Valley School, ensuring that handicapped people had the stimulus of working alongside those who were not, together with a farm, and Monex, a company selling jewellery and woodwork made by the patients. The patients also made all the island's flags, repaired the hospital's linen, cleaned specimen tubes for re-use in the hospital laboratories and serviced headsets for Air Jamaica, together with many other fundraising initiatives.

In 1994 he was elected Chairman of the Commonwealth Caribbean Medical Research Council, an organisation aiming to promote and coordinate research within the region. Golding himself made a number of research contributions on subjects of particular interest in the tropics, notably the bones in sickle cell disease, tuberculosis of the spine and scoliosis. He was also instrumental in setting up the 1966 Commonwealth Paraplegic Games, from which the Jamaican team emerged loaded with gold medals. Thereafter they took part in such contests all over the world.

In later years Golding developed an interest in the hospice movement and in helping terminally ill cancer patients, and initiated the National Road Safety Council of Jamaica, a development concerned with his anxiety about the increase in road accidents. At the time of his death, breathalysers had been introduced and he was negotiating with the Government over legal requirements for seat belts and crash helmets. In 1965 he had been promoted to the Princess Alice Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery at what had now become the University Hospital, and much of the foregoing activity was achieved in addition to the usual heavy workload of the professor of orthopaedic surgery.

John Golding's principal relaxation was sailing, but there is little doubt that the overwhelming interest in life was his work. He wrote a book, Ascent to Mona, describing the development of medicine in Jamaica up to the time of the founding of the university, and he was also passionately interested in the Renaissance. His favourite maxim was 'the greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because we can do so little'.

Golding died of a heart attack on 23 March 1996, having spent the last morning of his life visiting terminally ill cancer patients. He was survived by his wife, Pat, a son, Anthony, a daughter and four grandchildren. His funeral was organised by the Jamaican Government and was attended by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Numerous tributes were made by colleagues to testify to his impact on his adopted country. As already mentioned, he was honoured with the Order of Jamaica, and the road to the hospital has been named after him.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 24 April 1996; BMJ 1996 312 1355, both with portraits].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England