top of page

Alexander Paton

                                                                       Alexander Paton


Retired physician (b l924; q 1947; MRCS, MD, FRCP), died from old age on 12 September 2015.


Alexander Paton (“(Alex”) was a generalist with an insatiable curiosity about people and about many aspects of life other than medicine. Somewhat reluctantly he found that he had to specialise professionally, in gastroenterology and liver disease, and later developed an expertise in alcohol misuse.

He was born—the fifth Alexander as eldest son in a family that originated in the west of Scotland in 1795—at the bungalow of his maternal grandfather, Sir Grimwood Mears, chief justice of the High Court of Allahabad, lndia, the son of Colonel Alexander Paton DSO, MC, and his wife, Sybil. From Alleyn Court prep school at Westcliffe-on-Sea, Essex, he got a scholarship to Canford School, Dorset, where he read English literature and classics. He studied medicine during the war at St Thomas’ Hospital where he met his wife, Ann Pepys, a nurse at King’s and cousin of a fellow student. In 1945 he went with a party of medical students to help at the liberated concentration camp at Belsen. He won prizes as a student and was appointed house physician to the professor of medicine, O L V de Wesselow, before spending two years’ national service in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Trieste. His subsequent training included registrar to Sheila Sherlock at Hammersmith, senior registrar at Thomas’, and fellowships from the British Postgraduate Medical Federation and the Alexander Brown Cox Memorial Fund to research neurogenic diabetes (the subject of his MD) under Professor C N H Long at Yale.

His appointment in 1959 as a general physician at Dudley Road Hospital, Birmingham, was full time and largely devoted to emergency medicine, but he set up an endoscopy service and started a prospective study of cirrhosis of the liver that lasted 20 years and showed that alcoholic cirrhosis had a worse prognosis than many cancers. He taught medical students and candidates for the MRCP, and in 1962 he became clinical tutor in one of the early postgraduate centres. He was a member of the Association of Physicians and the Medical Research Society, and secretary of the West Midlands Physicians Association for seven years. ln 1973 he spent a sabbatical year as a visiting professor at the medical school in Baghdad.

Paton went back to London in 1981 as postgraduate dean for the North East Thames Region, with responsibility for overseeing training in five teaching hospitals and some 30 hospitals in the region. He used his two clinical sessions at the Prince of Wales and St Ann’s hospitals in north London to see people with alcohol problems, and he supported the Haringey Advisory Group on Alcohol (HAGA), of which he subsequently became president.. He wrote and lectured extensively on alcohol misuse, edited an ABC of Alcohol for The BMJ that went through four editions, and was the first chairman of the medical committee of Alcohol Concern, the national body for combating alcohol misuse.

Paton was a member of Haringey Health Authority; examiner, regional adviser, and councillor at the college; and examiner for the Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB). He was a medical member (later medical chairman) of the Pensions Appeal Tribunals, chaired the travelling fellowships committee of the King’s Fund, and was medical member of the scholarship committee of the Wingate Foundation. On retiring in 1987 he worked in an honorary capacity for three years at the Addictions Unit at the Warneford Hospital, Oxford.

Although medicine was his main concern, Paton had many other interests: sport of all kinds, including real tennis learnt at school at Canford and climbing, skiing, and long distance walking. He travelled extensively, spending holidays most years in his favourite country, Italy, and made two visits to Antarctica in his 70s. Other interests were classical music, the arts, photography, natural history, and church architecture (particularly fonts). Ahead of all these were a love of books and writing: he kept a diary from childhood, was a student editor, wrote articles for newspapers and medical journals, and did editorial work for The BMJ for over 50 years. He was a member of the journal’s writing workshops, led by the editor, Stephen Lock, which taught at many medical schools both in Britain and abroad. He continued to publish articles and book reviews into his 80s.

Paton was small, fair, intense, and pragmatic rather than philosophical; a certain brusqueness was a cloak for timidity and shyness. He lacked imagination, and his ambition was thwarted by a mediocre intellect and inadequate application. He was happily married for more than 60 years to a wife who was descended from Samuel Pepys’s cousin (the diarist was childless) and from Sir Lucas Pepys, president of the College (1804-11). She died in 2008. They had five children, one of whom was killed in a car accident; 10 grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.

By Alexander Paton

bottom of page