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Dr John Clement Charlton (‘Jack’) MB BCh BAO (1922-2013)

Jack was born in Hill St, Lurgan, Co Armagh and was baptised John Clement but always known as Jack. He was born 8th September 1922 at the time of partition in Ireland, the middle of 3. His brother, William Frederick Dixon Charlton was born in 1919 and killed in active service on 2nd June 1942 with RAF. There is a stained glass window at Hill Street Presbyterian Church, Lurgan, in his memory.  His younger sister, Anne Elizabeth (known as Betty) was born in 1925.

When he was a young child he nearly died of a collection of pus on his lung and had a huge scar on his back where a Lurgan GP, Dr Pedlow drained the empyema at home without much in the way of anaesthetic. As a result he did not start school until the age of 10. Despite his setbacks with illness he went on to play cricket for Lurgan and attended Lurgan College and then Queen’s University Belfast where he qualified in medicine MB BCh BAO in 1946. He was to survive another severe illness, Hepatitis A, as a house officer and in his late 70s he had surgery to both carotid arteries following an episode of amaurosis fugax (a threatened stroke) and enjoyed good health past his 90th birthday. It was arterial disease that was eventually to catch up with him causing him considerable ill health in his last 3 months.

His family were originally from County Monaghan in Ireland and traced their family history back to Northumberland in 1700. The family name Clement goes back to the 1700s. His father, Clement John Charlton was born in Emyvale and moved to Portadown where he did an apprenticeship with a Mr Baull and later a Mr Magurran in 40, Market Street, Lurgan. In 1925, the year of Jack’s birth, he set up his own hardware business, Charlton & Co at 51 Market Street, Lurgan which became Corkins in 1943.

In 1942 Jack had the heartbreaking task of going to Lurgan post office to collect a telegram and inform his parents of its contents; his brother, Pilot Officer WFD Charlton, had been shot down and killed over Netherlands. He was a Volunteer Reserve having left RAF Balderton near Newark-on-Trent late at night with Squadron 408 (RCAF) when he was shot down whilst flying a Hampden aged 22 and buried in Harderwijk, Holland, near where his aircraft crashed.

As a newly qualified doctor he went to work at Lurgan Hospital and in 1947 met his soul mate Mary Eleanor (Maureen) Rodgers, a Radiographer. They married on 19th April 1949 in First Antrim Presbyterian Church in Maureen’s home town, Antrim. They then moved to England where he worked initially in Wolverhampton and thought about training as a surgeon. After a few spells as a locum GP,  Jack’s work took them to Mickleover, Derby in August 1950 where he entered into partnership with Dr Michael McCahey, a UCD Dublin graduate who came from Crossmaglen, County Armagh and died in 1997. He had previously been offered a partnership in Tipton, West Midlands. They remained in partnership for many years and were lifelong friends and confidants.

Jack and Maureen became members of Green Lane Presbyterian Church in Derby where he was a devoted Churchman and fondly always referring to Church as the Kirk. At Central United Reformed Church, Derby, which was formed in 1972 from his former Church and Normanton Road and Victoria Street Congregational Churches, he became an elder  playing an active role in the Church for many years.

He was also president of the Derbyshire Ulster Society and always retained close links with Northern Ireland where he and Maureen had a flat in Portstewart.  He kept a great interest in Lurgan, visiting his sister Betty and her daughters Victoria and Eleanor. Victoria also qualified as a doctor at Queen’s University Belfast and works as a GP and Eleanor is a Practice Nurse in Lurgan. Victor Malcolmson from Lurgan College remained a lifelong friend. He was proud that a great niece and nephew now attend Lurgan College.

As a GP in a two-doctor practice from 1950 he practised from a semi-detached house at 82, Station Road, Mickleover. Jack’s room faced the street and was dark with a maroon carpet, a gas fire and a tall bureau which was the consulting desk.  

In his consulting room there was a stainless steel trolley with a few instruments and a glass jar with cotton wool. In one corner was a sink with a gas fired water heater and against a wall sat the old wooden couch with a white cotton sheet and pillow and wool rug at the end and a mobile screen. Underneath the couch was a worn-looking leather bag – the midwifery bag. In this, the ‘old surgery’, the receptionists wore white coats. There was a greenhouse type structure (reception office) which extended into the garden with a glass hatch which opened into the biggest room in the building where some uncomfortable wooden chairs were positioned close to the walls. In the centre of the room was a table with some well worn magazines. The reception office could not be referred to as a grand or even a modern day conservatory. There was a small fan heater for those cold winter days.

To see the doctor in the ‘old surgery’ there were no appointments. People started to queue outside the main surgery door before opening time and when the door was opened everyone made their way to the glass hatch and patient names were put in a note book under the names of doctor who were consulting that day. There was no choice of doctor offered and the lists were filled up in order and equally and the length of time you waited depended on your place in the queue. You then sat quietly on one of the uncomfortable wooden seats, if one was available, waiting for your name to be called.  The pressure on Dr McCahey and Jack rose according to the number of house visits waiting or one doctor having to leave in a hurry with the midwifery bag. For years they did their own on-call as well as delivering babies at all times of day and night.

This was all to change with Jack’s leadership and vision for modern general practice in the move to a new surgery in 1987, its modern rooms, appointment system and the introduction of computers.  He became the senior partner at the new Mickleover Medical Centre with 4 partners, two being sons John and Rodger.  John is still a partner at the Practice. Jack could now relax a little as the many years of getting up at night came to an end with out of hours cover being provided by a commercial deputising service.

He also worked for many years in the Nightingale Nursing Home as a GP Obstetrician and undertook many home births. He was the medical officer for the Prestige Factory in Derby, famous for their pressure cookers. He was an active member of Derby Medical Society. He reported a case of bilateral rupture of quadriceps tendon to the British Medical Journal on 24th December 1966.

He retired in 1990 and despite the article in the Derby Evening Telegraph where he was described as hanging up his stethoscope he went on to do locums in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and for his son Rodger in Hampton-in-Arden. He was made a lifelong member of the British Medical Association and Medical Defence Union.

His joys in life were his late wife Maureen and his extended family. He loved gardening and his greenhouse where he regularly grew tomatoes and cucumbers. Maureen and he loved travelling and their caravan; they visited most caravan sites in the UK. With his love of cricket, he was a regular visitor to the Tom Dollery suite to watch Warwickshire and England at Edgbaston.

His 3 sons, Billy (1953), John (1956) and Rodger (1959) and 5 of his 8 grandchildren were born in Derby. He was proud all his grandchildren; William, Alison, David, Jenny, Emily, Peter, Elizabeth, Susan and his great grandchild, Finlay, and took especial joy in their company. He always gave them a loving welcome into his home, as he did to visitors - friends and strangers. He will be greatly missed not least for his idiosyncratic response to being handed a cup of tea or slice of cake. “Just a half” he’d protest but then proceeded to eat and drink the lot. He was pleased to learn shortly before he died that one his grandchildren (Elizabeth) were to study medicine, particularly as this was to be in the Graduate Entry School at Derby as part of Nottingham University.

It was clear to all what a loving and close-knit marriage that Jack and Maureen had. During Jack’s many years as a GP, if he was on call, Maureen was also on call – the calm and reassuring voice at the end of the phone – and the never-failing support to Jack in his profession. In retirement they travelled extensively – to New Zealand twice, to USA several times, Australia, South Africa, and Canada.

Jack was predeceased by Maureen in July 2011. In 2009 Jack and Maureen celebrated their Diamond Wedding with their children and grandchildren and a letter from the Queen. He died on 10th July 2013 in Derby after a short illness.

Rodger, Billy, John, & Mary Charlton

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