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Biographical entry Goligher, John Cedric (1922 - 1998)

MRCS and FRCS 1938; MB ChB Edinburgh 1934; ChM 1947; FRCS Edinburgh 1938.

13 March 1922
Londonderry, Northern Ireland
18 January 1998
Coloproctologist, Colorectal surgeon and General surgeon


John Goligher was an outstanding surgeon who made an immense contribution to the clinical science of coloproctology. He won a national and international reputation and was always in demand for second opinions and as a lecturer. His writings, especially his textbook, were marked by their thoroughness and honesty and were essential reading.

John Cedric Goligher was born on 13 March 1912 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, where he was educated at Foyle College. His father was John Hunter Goligher, a businessman, and his mother was Henrietta neƩ Monteith. He chose the University of Edinburgh for his medical studies and graduated MB ChB in 1934. He was appointed to house officer posts at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh and gained a Fellowship in both the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and of England in 1938. In 1947 he became a Master of Surgery of Edinburgh University.

In the early years of the Second World War, he chose to work at a small postgraduate hospital, specialising in diseases of the rectum and colon, just one mile from the centre of the City of London. His appointment to St Mark's Hospital (now located at Northwick Park in Harrow), first as house surgeon and then as resident surgical officer, was to shape his career. Although there was great difficulty in maintaining the hospital's specialist work during the war, he came under the influence of the three great St Mark's surgeons, William Gabriel, Clifford Naunton Morgan and Oswald Lloyd-Davies, and the pathologist Cuthbert Dukes, all of whom worked tirelessly to maintain the clinical service at the hospital.

In 1941, Goligher began a five year tour in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was a surgical specialist and, being a paratrooper, was an officer in charge of an airborne surgical team serving in both Greece and Italy. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

After his military service, Goligher had a short spell as a senior registrar at St Mary's Hospital, gaining inspiration from that hospital's first professor of surgery, Charles Pannett and the well-known Arthur Dickson Wright. In 1947, he was appointed honorary assistant surgeon to St Mark's and St Mary's Hospitals. (One year later, at the formation of the National Health Service, he became a consultant surgeon.) At St Mark's the appointing panel could not decide between Goligher and Henry Thompson who had also been in the RAMC. In the event, both were appointed. He was thus able to develop his interest in colo-rectal surgery.

In 1955, having established himself firmly in London surgical practice, he caused some surprise when he made the unconventional move to become professor of surgery and chairman of the university department of surgery at the General Infirmary at Leeds. His former colleagues at St Mark's, recognising his ability, made him a consulting (later emeritus) surgeon, a position he held for 43 years. In Leeds, Goligher had a spectacular career as a clinical academic, as a writer and, above all, as a thoughtful and very hard-working surgeon. John Goligher was always at pains to critically evaluate the outcome of his clinical work, which was methodically audited. He enriched academic surgery by his analytic skills and his scrupulous honesty of reporting.

He also pioneered the randomised control trial to investigate many of the operations undertaken in his department. Perhaps the most significant of these trials was that carried out in Leeds and York to assess the various operations that were then used to treat patients with peptic ulcer (now usually treated with medicines) with special reference to the long-term outcome. This seminal work and many other projects in the colo-rectal field resulted in the publication of many papers and contributions to surgical meetings at home and overseas. Goligher was in great demand as a visiting professor, delivering over 20 named lectures in Europe, North America and at home.

In 1961 the textbook Surgery of the anus, rectum and colon (London, Bailliere Tindall) appeared on the bookshelves. This volume, extensively researched and written (except for one chapter) by Goligher, who intended it for surgeons in training and young consultants, was the first comprehensive account of coloproctology. Running to five editions (the last published in 1984) most of which were reprinted twice and with Spanish and Italian translations, this reference book was essential to those involved in the care of patients with intestinal problems. In the preface to the first edition, Goligher described precisely how this piece of writing and much of his other written work was perceived by others: "I believe I have reported the views of other writers fairly but I have naturally assessed the significance of their work in the light of my own personal experience and have, moreover, felt it my duty to state my own opinion even when equivocal, on all controversial matters."

It was as a clinician that he really shone and his clinical activity underpinned all that he did in other areas. He dispensed the highest standards of care and rightly expected the same from those around him and had amazing stamina, operating for long periods. Affectionately known as 'Prof' by his staff and patients, he always respected and valued his fellow men. Whilst he was a shy, quiet and somewhat self-effacing person, he was loved by his patients who were overwhelmed by his kindness to them. His humanity was exemplified when he was looking after a chronically ill young boy - he went out at lunchtime to purchase books for him. Even in retirement he continued to care for patients, establishing a most successful private practice.

Goligher served on the Council of the Royal College of Surgeons of England for 12 years (1968 to 1980), was President of the Royal Society of Medicine section of proctology (1962), President of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland (1974) and President of the British Society of Gastroenterology (1975). He was an honorary Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Brazilian College of Surgeons, and received honorary doctorates from universities in Belfast, Goteborg and Uruguay and an honorary doctorate of science from his own university of Leeds.

His interests outside surgery included reading, classical music and, appropriately for an intestinal specialist, gastronomy and oenology.

He was a committed family man. In 1952 he married Nancy Williams from Melbourne, Australia, whom he met when she was an almoner on his ward at St Mary's Hospital. She survives him, as do their three children, Susan, Jane (a consultant radiologist) and Michael. There are three grandchildren.

He died on 18 January 1998. Perhaps his last ward sister could have the final word: "Prof was a very good doctor". There could be no finer accolade.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 17 February 1998].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England