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Green Templeton College | Oxford

It is with great sadness that Green Templeton has learned of the death of Lord Walton of Detchant, Warden of the former Green College 1983-1989, on 21 April 2016 at the age of 93.

During his long and highly-distinguished medical career, John Walton played a major role in the development of medicine through positions as President of the British Medical Association, the Royal Society of Medicine, General Medical Council, and of the World Federation of Neurology.

He also made a remarkable contribution to the field of neuromuscular disorders through his research, not least by increasing understanding of muscular dystrophy.

Early medical career

Lord Walton studied at Newcastle Medical School, University of Durham, from where he graduated in 1945 with first class honours. He worked as a house officer before being called for military service in 1947.

On his return to his medical career, his interest in neuromuscular research was ignited in the 1950s, when he worked with Professor Fred Nattrass to research muscular dystrophy and other neurological diseases. He rapidly established himself as one of the founding fathers of modern myology (the study of muscles), strengthening his clinical practice with scientific investigation.

In 1958, he set up the first Regional Neurosciences Centre in the north of England at Newcastle University which was an international hub for trainees in the field of neuromuscular diseases and integrated the clinical practice with research laboratories.

In the 1950s Lord Walton also co-founded the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, now known as Muscular Dystrophy UK and later became its Honorary Life President.

In many ways he was ahead of his time, creating the now-familiar model of clinical observation of patients followed by appropriate clinical investigations and recognising that putting patients' needs at the heart of a research agenda provided influence and encouraged Government investment in clinical research.

He was formerly consultant neurologist to the Newcastle upon Tyne hospitals, Professor of Neurology in the University, and from 1971-81 Dean of Medicine. He was President of the British Medical Association from 1980-82, of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1984-86, of the General Medical Council from 1982-89, and of the World Federation of Neurology from 1989-97.

The Oxford years

In 1983 he came to Oxford, succeeding Professor Sir Richard Doll (pictured above right with Lord Walton in 2005) as the second Warden of the former Green College, and he led the College until 1989.

Lord Walton and his wife, Betty, rapidly and smoothly integrated themselves into the academic and social life of the College. They made a point of knowing and entertaining students and Fellows in the Lodgings and they took part in a wide range of College activities. Betty, as a former concert pianist, participated in musical events and played a strong role in continuing the activities of Richard and Joan Doll to bring the Fellows' partners (mainly wives then) into the life of the College. Lord Walton enjoyed the social life and particularly performed well in the annual cricket matches between Fellows and students.

His ability as a raconteur and after-dinner speaker was legendary: he had a seemingly endless fund of real and apocryphal stories relevant to whatever issue was being discussed. He was able to deliver a whole speech or conference presentation without notes and without the prompts of Powerpoint or even transparencies that so many lecturers relied on. The scope of his coverage spread widely over medical subjects as one might have expected into major political and managerial issues nationally and internationally.

The Walton Building, home to the Library and Learning Resources Centre at Green Templeton College is named in his honour, he having initiated the building project and seen it through to its completion in 1989.

He was in regular touch with the College after his departure, and was warmly welcomed to the London drinks reception at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London on 18 November 2015, the last College event he attended.

Honours and awards

He received a knighthood for services to medicine in 1979 and ten years later, while at Green College, was created a life peer on 24 July 1989, taking the title of Baron Walton of Detchant and sitting as a cross-bencher (with no political affiliation).

In 1992 he became a member of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, leaving in 1996, returning in 1997 and leaving again in 2001. From 1993 to 1994 he chaired the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics and he was Secretary of the Rare Diseases Group from 2009 until his death.

He was a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Patron of The Little Foundation, Vice President of Parkinson's UK and Honorary Chairman of the United Kingdom Medical Students' Association (UKMSA). Among many honours during his life, in 2014 he was presented with The Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Medicine (pictured above with Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, President of the RSM, at the Society's House, London W1).

In 1993, he published his autobiography The Spice of Life: from Northumbria to World Neurology (Royal Society of Medicine). Among his passions outside of work were the arts, particularly music, cricket and in later years, golf, as well as the north-east, where he was born and made his home.

Lord Walton will be sorely missed by his friends and former colleagues at Green Templeton who extend sincere condolences to his three children and his extended family.


  Tributes to Lord Walton of Detchant