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Biographical entry Ware, James (1941 - 2015)

MB BChir Cambridge 1966; FRCS 1971.

8 July 1941
9 October 2015
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
General surgeon and Medical educator


In a wide-ranging career, James Ware was a surgeon and medical educator in Europe, Africa, the Far East and Middle East. He was born on 8 July 1941, the son of Martin Ware, a former editor of the BMJ. His father was a great influence on his life and, even latterly, he recounted with fondness family holidays spent under canvas in Spartan conditions and long car journeys to reach destinations in England which few frequented, except the Wares.

While attending Bryanston School in Dorset he noticed the name 'Frederick Sanger' inscribed on a box of microscope slides he had been using in science classes. Only years later he realised that this was the legendary biochemist Frederick Sanger who twice won the Nobel prize. Ware wished he had known at the time, else he would have 'liberated' the slides. Typically, he considered himself 'not worthy' to have used them.

Having gone up to Cambridge, he qualified in medicine in 1966 and became a house officer at University College Hospital, London. He lectured in anatomy at the Royal Free Hospital and then became a senior house officer at Birmingham Accident Hospital. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1971 after a spell in surgery at Mount Vernon Hospital, Middlesex. An academic career ensued, starting at the Karolinska Hospital and Institute in Sweden, leading to a senior lectureship at the University of Liverpool in 1982.

Following this, Ware's long and successful association with the Middle East began in 1989 when he was appointed professor of emergency and critical care medicine at the United Arab Emirates University. He then moved through Malaysia, South Africa and Hong Kong in a series of chairs at International Medical University, the University of Witwatersrand and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, respectively.

In 2000 Ware eschewed clinical practice for medical education and in this role he established the IDEAL project in Hong Kong as a major question bank for medical examinations. These were psychometrically evaluated and designed to be shared internationally. Alongside this, he established the Hong Kong Nursing Consortium, which was designed to offer the same service for nursing education. A unique aspect of the latter was to get at least three universities in Hong Kong, where competition is the norm, working together.

Ware seemed most at home in the Middle East, to which he returned in 2006 with an appointment as professor and director of medical education at Kuwait University. In 2011 he was appointed to his final post as director of medical education and postgraduate studies at the Saudi Commission for Health Specialties in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In addition to driving forward the cause of rigorous and reliable medical examinations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and winning wide respect from the medical education community, he also established the Journal of Health Specialties, becoming the founding editor-in-chief, a post he held until his death. In a community where hard copy is considered the only proof of publication, he was successful in making the journal online and open access. He also ensured that it was not medically dominated, by commissioning nursing articles from the first issue and publishing more thereafter.

Reading Ware's CV is a journey through medicine and surgery from the 1960s to the present. He held many prestigious positions, gained many competitive research grants and published rigorous scientific articles. If there is a theme, it is curiosity and lack of fear. Ware was always more interested in what lay around the corner than what had gone before.

For anyone who knew him, the memory is surely of a man of imposing physical stature, with a voice which carried across crowded rooms and restaurants, and was accompanied by guffaws of laughter, usually before he had finished the story he was telling. In fact, the ends of the stories were rarely achieved. His inclusivity was remarkable; at events he was hosting, or even just attending, he would not tolerate 'wallflowers' and the lower one's apparent status, the more he built you up in the eyes of those to whom you were introduced. He was self-deprecating to good effect and generous to those around him, and had a true appreciation of the contribution of other professional groups - nurses in particular - to patient care. On the other hand, he did not tolerate fools and fools quickly discovered that.

In recent years, when his health was failing and he underwent open heart surgery, he was looking forward to retirement in Uganda and would regale any listener with the tribulations of trying to secure land there and then to build on it. What, to many, sounded like a nightmare was just another adventure. His second wife, Freda, was Ugandan and they both dreamed of settling there. Of his many plans, this was one that was not fulfilled and Ware died of pneumonia in Riyadh on 9 October 2015. He was 74. His funeral was held in England soon afterwards and he is missed by many colleagues, by Freda and by their children.

Roger Watson

Sources used to compile this entry: [J Health Spec 2016;4:3-4;year=2016;volume=4;issue=1;spage=3;epage=4;aulast=Watson - accessed 5 February 2016].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England