Last Update: 30/01/2013 17:48
Francis John Gillingham HON
15 March 1916 - 3 January 2010
Prof John Gillingham died in Shipton-under-Wychwood,
Oxfordshire, England on. He was an Honorary Fellow of the RACS.
Francis John Gillingham, always known as John, was born at
Dorchester, Dorset, on 15 March 1916; he was the only son of Mr and
Mrs J H Gillingham. He was educated at the town's Thomas Hardye
School before going on to study Medicine at St Bartholomew's
Hospital Medical College in London. He graduated MB BS in 1939, and
after completing his training began work as a GP. After completing
his house training at Barts and Lord Mayor Treloar Cripples'
Hospital, Alton, Hampshire, he served during the Second World War
in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was posted to the Military
Hospital at St Hugh's College, Oxford, where he managed the
treatment of head injuries. After 1942 he treated troops wounded in
the battle of El Alamein and in campaigns in northern Italy. He
performed hundreds of operations in the most adverse conditions -
his "theatres" were an old bus and a succession of tents. He later
estimated that he had treated some 30 soldiers a day, many for
bullet wounds to the head. He was appointed MBE (military) in
After the war he returned to Barts for further training. In 1950
he was appointed consultant neurosurgeon and Director of the
Department of Surgical Neurology, Edinburgh. He was also appointed
a Senior Lecturer in Surgical Neurology at the University of
Edinburgh. In 1962 he was promoted to Reader and in 1963 to
Professor of Surgical Neurology at the University of Edinburgh.
Under his leadership, the Department of Surgical Neurology in
Edinburgh became an international centre of excellence; it has
trained 100 or so heads of departments of neurosurgery around the
In 1955 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons
of Edinburgh. In 1968 he was appointed to the Council of that
College and in 1980 he resigned from his professorship at Edinburgh
University to become the president of the Royal College of Surgeons
of Edinburgh. He was made an emeritus professor.
He made his reputation, however, in the field of stereotactic
neurosurgery, one of the most important developments in
20th-century brain surgery. Predating the era of MRI (magnetic
resonance imaging) scans, it enabled the brain surgeon to use a
three-dimensional system of coordinates to identify targets for
probes that could alleviate tremors or movement disorders. The
technique had first been used on primates in the early years of the
20th century. Gillingham, working alongside Professor Norman Dott
and the Parisian neuro-surgeon Gérard Guiot, became its most
Not only was John Gillingham a superb surgeon, he also excelled
at training younger colleagues from all over the world and was both
popular and highly respected internationally by those in his field.
He trained many Australian neurosurgeons includingLeigh Atkinson,
Glenn McCulloch and Geoff Klug.
From 1966 to 1980 when he retired, Gillingham was consultant
neurologist to the British Army in Scotland. In retirement he
lectured on neurosurgery around the world and served as honorary
president of the World Federation of Neurological Societies. He was
Professor of Surgical Neurology at King Saud University in Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia, from 1983 to 1985.
He was appointed CBE in 1982, and in 2009 received a lifetime
achievement award from the Society of British Neurosurgeons.
John Gillingham continued to live in Edinburgh in retirement,
finally moving to the Cotswolds in 2006. He also kept a house on
Spain's Costa Blanca, and enjoyed sailing and golf. Gardening was
another interest, and he took pleasure in growing cacti.
He married, in 1945, Irene ("Judy") Jude, with whom he had four
sons. His eldest son, Jeremy, along with his wife Anni, both GPs,
were killed by an avalanche while skiing in the French Alps in
1994. John Gillingham died on 3 January 2010.
Written by Glenn McCulloch FRACS using information in the
obituaries published in The Times and The Telegraph.