John Colley obituary

Other lives: Professor of public health medicine who helped to reveal the dangers of childhood exposure to atmospheric pollution

My colleague and friend John Colley, who has died aged 92, was a pioneering epidemiologist and professor of public health medicine at Bristol University.

Born in Bath, John was the son of Alice (nee Nuttall), a nurse, and Richard Colley, an ophthalmic surgeon. From Kingswood school he went to St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School, London, graduating in 1955. He was among that early postwar cohort who expanded epidemiology to give it more dynamic clinical relevance. Their new measures of physical and mental function for use in population studies enabled research to show how illness and disease risk develop over long periods of life, and how ageing occurs.

At the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (1964-76) and as honorary consultant in clinical epidemiology at Great Ormond Street hospital (1971-76), John showed how childhood exposure to atmospheric pollution was a risk for adult onset of chronic respiratory disease. He was consultant to the European Commission and the World Health Organization on atmospheric pollution and respiratory disease in children.

As professor at Bristol University (1976-93), John expanded the department of epidemiology and public health with a new focus on public health medicine. He made it a scientific resource for the NHS in the south west, and redesigned the teaching to emphasise the essentials of evidence-based medicine. In addition, he developed and encouraged new research, which included taking on, for five years, the honorary directorship of the Medical Research Council’s National Survey of Health and Development, a birth cohort study begun in 1946, as it became a resource for research into ageing. That study continues still.

John was a rigorous medical scientist of great integrity, and a stimulating colleague. He was editor of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (1985-92), and a visiting examiner in other medical schools.

On his appointment to the Bristol professorship, John was coming home, close to where he had grown up in Bath and to where his father had practised. John met Lesley Fortt, a medical secretary, at Bath Tennis Club; they married in 1965.

When he retired, the family, to which he was devoted, energetically ran a smallholding, which included sheep, a flock of 36 breeding ewes, ponies, foals and five dogs. He loved sailing, listening to classical music and reading; he was also a talented artist. In 2004, the family moved to Littlehempston, Devon, where he kept a boat on the Dart, making trips to Dartmouth with grandchildren and dogs.

John is survived by Lesley, his daughters, Sarah and Charlotte, and granddaughters, Jasmine, Chloe and Imogen.

Michael Wadsworth

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Dennis Bidwell obituary
Other lives: Immunologist who played an important role in the development of the Elisa diagnostic tool

Brian Higgins

19, Dec, 2017 @5:31 PM

Article image
Stephanie Saville obituary
Other lives: Anaesthetist who became a role model for female hospital doctors

Barbara Wright

13, Jul, 2018 @4:50 PM

Article image
Michael Atkinson obituary
Other Lives: Professor of gastroenterology who developed the Atkinson tube, which helps people with oesophageal cancer to swallow

John Bennett

13, May, 2021 @3:26 PM

Article image
Lionel Fry obituary
Other lives: Dermatologist who altered our understanding of the development and treatment of the skin ailment psoriasis

Catherine Hardman

14, Feb, 2021 @10:03 AM

Article image
Luis Cuevas obituary
Other lives: Medical researcher who worked at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine after fleeing political violence in Guatemala

Bertie Squire

24, Feb, 2023 @11:27 AM

Article image
Harrison Spencer obituary
Other lives: Doctor involved in the fight against malaria in Africa who initiated distance learning programmes for health professionals

Martin McKee

13, Sep, 2016 @5:00 PM

Article image
Sir Sandy Macara obituary
Chairman of the British Medical Association's ruling council who was a fierce opponent of the internal market in the NHS

Nicholas Timmins

06, Aug, 2012 @4:47 PM

Article image
Matteo Adinolfi obituary
Other lives: professor of immunology who was also a prolific artist

Jennifer Williams Adinolfi

05, Jul, 2020 @1:31 PM

Article image
Monty Losowsky obituary
Other Lives: Consultant who helped to make St James’s university hospital a centre of medical learning

Martin Wainwright

01, Jun, 2020 @1:33 PM

Article image
Milica Brozović obituary
Other lives: Haematologist whose work improved the screening and treatment of sickle cell disease

Branko Brozović

07, Mar, 2022 @6:46 PM