Skip to main content

Celebrating the life of John Beavis

It is with great sadness to record the passing of IDEALS’ founding Chairman John Patrick Beavis

As his Irish forebears would say: What do you want, the truth or a good story? In John, the two always coincided.

John Patrick Beavis was a child of the war. His earliest memory was of a German fighter bomber attacking the railway viaduct in Brighton. He later discovered the 19 year old pilot had only seconds to live, shot down moments later.

His adoptive father, Bill Beavis, died on HMS Quorn on 4th August 1944, with two thirds of the ship's crew, when she was sunk in the only successful attack by a German mini-submarine. Bill was a cook, and had moved to Brighton to work on the Pullman railway to London. His adoptive mother, also his aunt, was from Greenock, one of six sisters of Irish immigrant stock.

He was raised amidst a group of principled women, all powerful characters. He developed a strong sense of social justice, and an abiding belief that, in war, victors and vanquished are all victims, although not equally so. (He also acquired an unrivalled collection of epigrams from his Glaswegian grandmother, one of which the writer has trialled on his wife's book group:

"a woman who reads books will always have a di-rrty house",

before beating a hasty retreat.)

Varndean grammar school challenged his abilities, and he challenged it. His natural ebullience did not go unnoticed, or unpunished. "You'll not earn a living by being funny, Beavis", from the headmaster. His classics teacher encouraged him to believe in himself, and University College Hospital accepted him to study medicine, after a degree in biochemistry.

After registration as a doctor, he served in the Royal Navy as a surgical specialist, and, en passant, completed the Commando Course, as well as basic parachute training, subsequently serving on HMS Bulwark, naval shore stations, and with the Royal Marine Reserve, all sources of hugely entertaining stories, especially to his "airborne" friends.

He completed his surgical training and, in 1976, was appointed Consultant Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon to Lewisham University Hospital, Children’s Hospital Sydenham and Director of Lewisham Hospital Accident and Emergency Department. In 1980, he moved to Medway as Consultant Orthopaedic and Trauma Surgeon to Medway Hospital and was appointed Director of Department of Orthopaedics, Trauma and Plastic Surgery.

There he laboured long and far too hard, to the great benefit of the local population, recognised in 1993 by the extraordinary distinction for an orthopaedic surgeon of being elected Honourable Citizen of Rochester by Rochester upon Medway City Council, for Services to patients and their families.

Sadly, it was to the detriment of his health, and in 1992 he required open heart surgery and was subsequently advised to "do less NHS work and travel more". He took the advice seriously and travelled to Sarajevo where he worked on and off for several years. Between 1993 and 2001, he worked for an average of four months each year in Bosnia, most intensely during the siege between 1992 and 1995, as visiting trauma and orthopaedic consultant, principally in the State Hospital in Sarajevo. He was engaged in war surgery, with research projects on the added effects of starvation and prolonged exposure to cold. In 2001, he was awarded a Bosnian Medal of Honour.

In 1998, he met a businessman, Simon Oliver, on a flight. They fell into conversation, John spoke of his work, weaved his verbal magic, and, before they landed, Simon gave him a cheque for £5,000. The Bosnian Fund resulted but was reborn as IDEALS (International Disaster and Emergency Aid with Long -term Support) in 2000. John was, and remained, chairman, until his death on December 5th

In the same year, he was appointed Consultant Advisor, Senior Lecturer, and Deputy Director of Leonard Cheshire Centre for Conflict Recovery, University College, London. He was salaried for 3 years, tasked with student teaching, but principally to develop the activities of the department in areas of conflict and disaster.

Leonard Cheshire took the view that medicine might be a good way of bringing people together. None better than John.

He studied for and achieved the Diploma in the Medical Care of Catastrophes (DMCC) in 2002. He acquired an Advanced Trauma Life Support Certificate with distinction.

He was appointed Hunterian Professor, Royal College of Surgeons of England in 2003.

In this capacity, John, with IDEALS, and some outstanding colleagues, brought Primary Trauma Care training to North West Frontier Province(NWFP) of Pakistan in 2003 and subsequently to Sindh.

In 2004, John and IDEALS were heavily involved in reconstructive work Sri Lanka after the tsunami.

In 2005, he returned with IDEALS to NWFP following a devastating earthquake. John and IDEALS worked both clinically but also in the rebuilding of the village of Bedadi, an extraordinary tale in which the village was rebuilt, on land purchased afresh to free the villagers from rapacious landlords, and with the project completed on time and with every penny accounted. The villagers all acquired new and marketable skills, as well as an honorary grandfather - John Beavis.

John then rewarded the talent and achievement of IDEALS' local Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) partner, Naveed Shinwari, by sponsoring him to complete a diploma course in New York. Since then, Naveed has developed his organisation from one person working from a single room in Peshawar to the preferred NGO for UN projects, the World Bank, and the British High Commission, among others. It now employs more than 450 people. John planted a tiny acorn, and a mighty oak tree has grown.

With IDEALS, John began work in the Middle East in 2009, with the introduction of Primary Trauma Care (PTC) training to Gaza. Courses followed in Nablus, in the West Bank, in 2011. John, together with his great friend, Sir Terence English, and the IDEALS’ Health Adviser, Andy Ferguson, returned repeatedly to West Bank and Gaza to reinforce the message of PTC, and to develop other projects related to health care. In 2012, he lead a project for training Palestinian surgeons in post-traumatic Limb Reconstruction surgery in a partnership between Shifa Hospital, Gaza, and King's College Hospital, London.

IDEALS was then perfectly placed to lead the project for medical assistance offered by the UK government to the people of Gaza, as a consequence of the recent conflict. Since it began in July 2014, he travelled, with colleagues, each month to implement the aid package, and to demonstrate to friends and colleagues in Gaza that he was not indifferent to their suffering.

For 26 years, he had devoted his life to humanitarian work. He wore his humanity on his sleeve and embraced all sides in a conflict. He made people laugh, and they trusted him. Above all, he always returned, keeping his promises, and was in it for the long haul. Much of his work was funded by his medico-legal practice. He intended to die poor, but was always rich in all that matters.

He is survived by his wife Kate and their three children and seven grandchildren, a source of immense pride to both of them.

Unfortunately, when he passed away on the 5th of December 2018, although he knew about his award, he did not survive to be able to receive his much deserved OBE, awarded to him the New Years Honours.

A man the world will miss very much for his kindness, humour, integrity and understanding.

His friends called him Mad Jack. It is not known what his enemies called him. It seemed he had none.

Mon 29 April 2019