Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Serjeant, John Cornelius Blair (1917 - 1997)

TD 1955; MRCS and FRCS 1955; MB ChB Edinburgh 1939; FRCS Edinburgh 1947.

17 January 1917
Masham, Yorkshire
3 September 1997
General surgeon and Urologist


John Cornelius Blair Serjeant was a consultant general surgeon and urologist at Shotley Bridge General Hospital, County Durham. He was born at Masham, Yorkshire, on 17 January 1917, the son of Robert Serjeant, a surveyor of HM Customs and Excise, and Agnes, his wife, formerly Blair, who was a teacher. His brother, Robert Bertram, was Professor of Arabic Studies at Cambridge, and his sister Aileen was a graduate of Edinburgh and a well-known translator. The family was brought up in Edinburgh. John's early education was at George Watson's School and then Edinburgh University, where he studied medicine, qualifying in 1939. He held a house surgeon post with Norman Dott at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and also at Leith Hospital.

He joined the RAMC in January 1941 and was posted overseas to India, later serving in the Burma campaign. He was promoted to Captain and made graded surgical specialist. On demobilisation, he joined the Territorial Army and was granted the TD in 1955, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1961. He retired from the TA in 1970.

After the war, he started the long struggle of surgical training, mainly under McNeil Love at the Royal Northern Hospital. He became a Fellow of the Edinburgh College in 1947 and of the London College in 1955. He became senior surgical registrar to St Peter's Hospital for Stone and then assistant surgeon to Addenbrookes in Cambridge. In 1960, he was appointed consultant surgeon to the North West Durham hospital group and to Shotley Bridge General Hospital.

He shouldered the wide surgical practice of the time with energy and ability, and continued his special interest in urology. His excellent technique allowed him to perform cystectomies and conduit procedures efficiently at a fraction of the time of the practice today. Day surgery appealed to him and he established an excellent unit in 1966, many years before it became the norm elsewhere. He was a good teacher and students from Newcastle Medical School were keen to join his firm. He gave strong support to the British Association of Urological Surgeons, serving on its council, and also to the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association.

A colleague writes that, during the industrial troubles of the Barbara Castle period, John went to operate at the day unit, only to be told by a union steward that his private patient on the list had been cancelled. He replied, "OK, will you tell the patients, many being burly miners, that you have cancelled the entire list?" The steward replied that only the private patient had been cancelled. John stood firm, saying: "As far as I am concerned you have cancelled the lot and you are free to discuss your grievances when you have explained the cancellation to the patients." There was a short union meeting and afterwards the whole list went ahead as planned. There was no further trouble at Shotley.

He was a man of many interests. He sailed on the Derwent, studied military history, particularly the Wellington period, made and exhibited model soldiers, and had a deep love of the music of Bach. There were few Easters when he missed a recital of St Matthew's Passion.

He married Terry Dew in 1946, who predeceased him. He retired to Surrey, dying from carcinoma of the prostate on 3 September 1997. He is survived by his son, David, a lawyer. There are two grandchildren.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1998 316 783; information from David Serjeant and John Mason].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England