8 April 1937 – 7 July 2021
Dr John Gavin Bourdas Thurston MB who has died age 84, was a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, Fellow of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and Fellow of the International Federation of Emergency Medicine. He was also a member of the UK Register of Expert Witnesses and honorary life member of the British Association for Emergency Medicine.
During five decades of service to the NHS he was the consultant at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton who co-ordinated and worked on major incidents, including the Putney gas explosion in a block of flats (1985) which killed eight and injured dozens, and the Clapham rail crash (1988) which caused 35 deaths as well as many injuries.
With a lifelong passion for sport, particularly rugby union (he disliked what he called soccer) Dr John was one of the founders of the Rosslyn Park Injuries Trust set up in 1981 to help schoolboys injured playing rugby. He requested that in lieu of flowers at his funeral money be sent to the charity.
John Gavin Bourdas was the eldest child of Gavin Thurston (coroner for West London 1956 – 1981 whose cases included the death of Judy Garland, Jimi Hendrix and Lord Lucan’s nanny) and Ione, and brother to his younger sister Mary. He was educated at Haileybury School, Hertford, then followed in his father’s footsteps to undergo medical training at Guy’s Hospital London, graduating in 1961.
He worked at several hospitals at the start of his career, specialising for several years in cardiology at Westminster Hospital. After the closure of Westminster Hospital, he was appointed Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Roehampton, where he worked until it closed 18 years later.
Dr John, or JT as he was affectionately known by colleagues, then went in the same capacity to West Hill Hospital Dartford, until that closed just three months later and he transferred to Joyce Green Hospital in Dartford, which also subsequently closed. He was delighted to be appointed the first Clinical Director in Emergency Medicine at the new Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford which opened in 2000. On his retirement, aged 70, he said it was a good time to leave as ‘my presence seemed to cause hospitals to ‘circle the drain’’.
During his long career he wrote and contributed to dozens of papers on medical topics, which ranged from carbon monoxide poisoning and the use of hyperbaric oxygen to medical misdiagnosis in accident and emergency departments. He was asked by Holiday Which? Magazine (1996) to produce a review of the inflight medical services of 40 commercial airlines.
John was a member of Mensa and his keen intelligence combined with warmth, charm and humour made him entertaining company. He was compassionate towards and about his patients. He was vehemently opposed to the practice of saying that someone had ‘passed on’, rather than ‘died’ insisting that if you used terms such as ‘I’m sorry we’ve lost your husband’ people would not grasp that their loved one was actually dead. He was a fount of medical funny stories and could often be found propping up the bar of his local pub in the company of friends with a similarly irreverent sense of humour.
Saving lives was a source of pride to him. Once it came with an unexpected benefit when a grateful patient told him quietly, ‘tell me where you live doctor and I’ll make sure you’re never burgled.’
After his retirement he worked as an Expert Witness on several medico-legal cases.
He was the first Honorary Registrar to the College of Emergency Medicine and was also President of the Emergency Medicine Section of the Royal Society of Medicine. As part of these roles, he travelled extensively to conferences all over the world, which he enjoyed immensely. He was the major incident doctor at Twickenham rugby ground for 16 years.
For many years John could be found cheering on his home rugby union team, Rosslyn Park and was honoured to be made President for a term as well as honorary medical officer. He loved the ground so much he held the wedding reception to his third wife, Steph at the clubhouse. He was one of only a handful of non-showbiz people invited to join the entertainment industry charity The Grand Order of Water Rats, appointed as Companion doctor.
John Thurston was married three times, to Felicity (married 1958 divorced 1964), Joy (married 1965, divorced 1985) and Stephanie (married 1986), who survives him. He leaves five children, Georgette, Gavin, Gareth, John and Andrew, a stepson Toby and seven grandchildren. Although London born and bred and passionate about his home city, John and Steph moved to live near Cullompton in Devon after his retirement in 2007.