Godfrey Fowler obituary

Other lives: Family doctor and professor of general practice at Oxford University

My friend Godfrey Fowler, who has died aged 90, was a leading and reforming family doctor for 30 years; he was warm, modest and convivial. For much of his career he also headed a department of medical general practice at Oxford University, training students and undertaking research into preventive medicine.

Godfrey was founding clinical reader in the new department from 1978, having been persuaded to take this role by Sir Richard Doll, then regius professor of medicine. The department became what is now the large and successful Nuffield department of primary care sciences. Godfrey took the role part-time, so he could continue as a GP. His first challenges were to devise new general practice teaching, such as in consultation skills, and to convince Oxfordshire GPs to provide up to 70 placements a year – a target he met successfully.

Godfrey was born in the village of Wolverley, Worcestershire, the eldest of six. His parents, Donald, a businessman, and Dorothy (nee Bealey),a homemaker, had both left school at 14. After attending Sebright school, Godfrey won an exhibition to University College, Oxford, to study medicine, graduating in 1954 and then moving to further work at University College hospital, London (1954-59). He specialised in obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatrics, but his interest in general practice was strong and he became a GP in Oxford in 1961.

His Beaumont Street surgery cared for CS Lewis and the Nobel prize winner Lord Florey among its patients. He was invited to become college doctor at the Queen’s College and later other colleges. Keen to improve the service available to students, he played a significant role in establishing student counselling at the university.

Godfrey’s research at the university focused on preventive medicine and improving primary care, especially in the transfer of chronic disease from hospitals to the community, exploring the effect and cost-effectiveness of such changes. He sought better ways of helping smokers to stop and to help people adopt healthy eating habits. He also investigated the effects of GP-conducted health checks and advice on cardiovascular disease and cancer risk; another study examined “shared care” records in patients newly diagnosed with cancer.

His books for Oxford University Press included two on preventive medicine (1987 and 1993) and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease (1996); he also edited a series on general practice for OUP.

Godfrey became a professorial fellow at Balliol College and a fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners in 1978 and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1996. He became honorary director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’s GP research group in 1987. He was appointed OBE in 1989.

For many years Godfrey was a keen member of Sir Roger Bannister’s regular walking group of Oxford academics. After retiring from his post as chair of general practice in 1997 he enjoyed fell-walking, completing the Annapurna Circuit and the Tour de Mont Blanc. He also loved gardening and had an active social life within his two Oxford colleges, University College and Balliol.

Godfrey married Sissel Vidnes in 1961. He is survived by Sissel, their elder son, Jeremy, and a grandson. His younger son, Adrian, died in an accident in 1995.

Jake Piper

The GuardianTramp

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