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John Minto Fitton

by Mr W Shea (1999)
retired consultant colleague of Mr Fitton

John Minto Fitton was born in Darlington on the 6th August 1915 and spent his childhood variously in Castleford, Cleckheaton and Liskeard in Cornwall. He studied Medicine at the University of Leeds and graduated in 1939 with a First Class Honours Degree, the Magill Prize in Surgery, the Hardwick Prize in Medicine and the Butterworth Prize in Clinical Medicine.

After graduation he spent two years as a House Officer at The General Infirmary at Leeds, the second year in Orthopaedic Surgery. From 1941 to 1946 he was first Resident Surgical Officer and later Assistant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, treating mainly injured servicemen and coal miners.

In 1942 he achieved the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and later became Surgeon in Charge of Rehabilitation. In 1946 he went to what was then the colony of Mauritius. There had been a severe epidemic of poliomyelitis and there was no Orthopaedic service. He set up a service and treated many of the patients. On his return to England in 1949 he was appointed the M.B.E. for services to Mauritius. He became Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at Dewsbury District Hospital in 1950 and in 1955 moved to St. James' Hospital in Leeds where he worked until his retirement in 1980 and beyond.

During his life he was a member of the following Learned Societies:
• The Holdsworth Club Founder and President
• Leeds Bone Tumour Registry Founder, Member and Secretary
• British Orthopaedic Association Fellow
• Royal Society of Medicine
• West Riding Medico-legal Society
• Medical Sciences Club President
• Society for Remedial Gymnasts Vice President
• Leeds Medico-Chirurgical Society President

When he started at St. James it was nothing like it is now. It was in the process of becoming an acute General Hospital from its workhouse beginnings. All the buildings were old, mainly Victorian, and though it was a large institution there were only two elderly operating theatres. Most of the Out-Patient clinics and the Casualty Department were at the Leeds Public Dispensary in the city. The Orthopaedic Department consisted of two Nightingale wards, an admission unit and a small Outpatient clinic lodged in tiled cells, originally used as sleeping accommodation for the homeless. There were one and a half consultants, one Registrar and two House Officers. Other Departments were similar, and lead by people like Eric Jackson, Arthur Leese, David Feather and Bill Goldie. They all were working to establish their services and develop the hospital.

One of John's earliest projects was the Leeds Bone Tumour Registry. This was set up in 1958 in close association with the Pathology Department, and in particular with Bill Goldie. It gradually developed its collection of rare bone tumours for research and a panel for diagnosis. John remained its Secretary for the rest of his working life and continued for a year or two afterwards.

With increasing work Senior and Junior staff in the Orthopaedic Department gradually enlarged and a Senior Registrar training scheme was introduced between Leeds and Bradford. In 1971, after much planning effort, Chancellors Wing one of the first new buildings at St. James' opened, bringing all of Orthopaedics and Casualty into one block with four new theatres and a great increase in beds. Then came teaching Hospital status with all its added work and problems.

Throughout all these developments John led the Department with great energy and care to achieve the best for patients, staff and the development of Orthopaedic Surgery. In the period before his retirement the establishment of the University Department of Orthopaedic Surgery was his hope. When he retired he
worked as his own locum for a year or so to help achieve his final aim his replacement by a Department. 

Over all the years he worked a heavy service commitment and countless patients had cause to be gratefulfor his careful and patient treatment. He had a special interest in conditions of the foot, both in childhood and in age, and he made a significant contribution to their treatment. His clinical curiosity never abated and he always had some research project on the go, resulting in the production of a collection of papers over the years of great value to students and the practising Surgeon. He maintained an active interest in numerous Medical Societies, not only in Orthopaedics, and served as President on many.

Outside medicine he had many interests. He played Hockey for Yorkshire, was a member of the Leeds Corinthians Hockey Club and became its President. He was fond of Golf and proud of having won the Moynihan Cup. He loved fishing and on one occasion when he was taken sailing managed to catch Sea Trout in the unlikely waters of the Firth of Clyde. He had a great interest in Geology but, undoubtedly, the greatest was in gardening and led to a complete new career in his retirement. He had been a member of the Northern Horticultural Society for many years and he was elected to the Council of the Society in 1984 and became its Chairman in 1987. Anyone who knows Harlow Carr Gardens will be aware of the tremendous developments that occurred during his Chairmanship. I have heard that one of his last tasks was to write a comprehensive guide to the understanding of Latin and Greek names of plants. Characteristically, the final draft of this was delivered to the Society for comment the day before he died. 

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