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Professor MS John Pathy OBE, FRCP (1923-2009)

Emeritus Professor MS John Pathy, who died in early April at the age of 85, was a pioneer in gerontology and the medical care of older people.

Having qualified in medicine at King’s College London in 1948, he trained in general medicine and infectious diseases before moving to Wales in 1960. He soon developed his interest in geriatric medicine and this occupied his professional life for the next half century.

He was appointed as Foundation Professor of Geriatric Medicine in the then Welsh National School of Medicine in 1979. Prior to this he had already established Cardiff as a centre of innovative care for elderly people, with dedicated geriatric medical beds in the newly opened teaching hospital at the University Hospital of Wales, high dependency beds for acutely ill patients otherwise denied access to monitoring and active treatment solely on basis of age, specialist health visitors in the community and the first Day Hospitals and first Stroke Unit in Wales. Alongside this dynamic clinical service he was an enthusiastic teacher of medical and nursing students and played a major part in setting up the Schools of Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy. He was also responsible for the postgraduate training of nearly every doctor who specialized in geriatric medicine across Wales. 

His research output included the classical paper on presentation of heart disease in old age and important contributions to the literature on preventive care, stroke and dementia. His senior lecturers were all motivated to became professors in the specialty, except for one who became Chief Medical Officer for Wales. His reputation brought to the department a steady stream of visitors from every continent and he was a popular figure at international conferences and advisor to several overseas governments.

After his formal retirement in the early 1990s, he still continued his research interests and was a very active Chair of Age Concern Wales (whose new headquarters are named after him) and a member of the board of the George Thomas Trust. The first edition of his seminal textbook on the specialty ‘’Principles and Practice of Geriatric Medicine’  was published in 1990 and he had already started planning the fifth edition at the time of his death.

All those who knew him will remember his boundless energy, his infectious enthusiasm for whatever he was doing, his dogged determination and reluctance to ever admit defeat, his support to students and interest in colleagues in the multidisciplinary team, his old fashioned attention to clinical skills yet eagerness to embrace new technologies and his compassion and care for all the thousands of patients who came under his care.