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John Leighton Williams

1927 - 2020

Obituary by Prof Christopher Chapple

John Williams was a Consultant Urological Surgeon in Sheffield who had a major impact on the development of urological services both locally and nationally.


John Leighton Williams was born near Swansea and was brought up between Swansea and Gilwern in the Welsh Valleys, where his father was a steel works engineer. From being head boy at his grammar school, Leighton - as he was known by his family to avoid confusion with the other John Williams in the family - entered medical training in Cardiff, before transferring to Guy’s Hospital for his clinical studies. He qualified in 1949 and undertook “house” posts in London. 

In 1951, he was then called up for National Service and was appointed Lieutenant in the RAMC. After basic training, he spent any available weekend in London in the RCS museum, studying for his Fellowship and obtaining his Part 1 the following year. On passing this exam, he was promoted to Captain and deployed to Trieste as medical officer where he remained for the rest of his service. 

After his discharge from the army, John continued his surgical training, obtaining Fellowship the following year and with registrar posts in Bristol, Derby, Sheffield, and Los Angeles. 

On returning from the USA, he was appointed to Sheffield in the mid 1960s as the first pure Consultant Urologist, replacing “Jock” Anderson when he retired. He spent his consultant career in the department at the Royal Hospital and then at the newly-built Royal Hallamshire Hospital, now part of Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.  

With the advent of renal transplantation, John started performing transplant surgery, carrying out the first successful renal transplant in Sheffield in 1968.  Urology and transplantation moved to the newly built Royal Hallamshire Hospital in 1978, with John relinquishing his transplant duties shortly afterwards. The new unit was opened by the Prince of Wales when John and his colleague Miles Fox had the honour of showing the Prince around the Unit. 

In 2018, Sheffield Transplant Unit celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first successful transplant.  John, being retired and in his 90s, attended the celebration and cut the cake jointly with the longest surviving successful transplant patient who was still alive with a functioning kidney 41 years after his transplant.

John also had a major interest in urinary tract tumours - in particular, bladder cancer. He set up and developed local services in Sheffield and the surrounding area. John was Honorary Secretary of British Association of Urological Surgeons from 1978 to 1981, following on in this role from Eric Charlton Edwards, and being succeeded by John Vinnicombe.  He worked very closely with the BAUS Presidents during his secretaryship and collaborated with his friend John Steyn who was Honorary Treasurer (1978-81). He also chaired the editorial board of the British Journal of Urology. John was awarded the BAUS St Peter’s Medal in 1991.

Following retirement, John was able to devote more time to other interests, particularly music. He had been a talented musician since childhood and shared a love of opera with his wife Edna. Their special interest was Wagner, especially the Ring cycle, and they had travelled widely to attend live performances.  After Edna’s death in 2000, John set up a Sheffield U3A group for opera appreciation. A dedicated group attending his monthly video replays of operas. These were held in his home with the sitting room chairs laid out in rows to simulate a theatre. 

He continued performing himself for many years until a shoulder injury prevented it, playing viola in a string quartet known as the Ellawi Quartet (“where the ‘ell are we?”). When he wasn’t busy, John also chaired the Sheffield and District Orchid Society for many years. Whatever John did, he did well, and he became an expert in growing orchids, wood turning and repairing clocks.

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