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john frederick thompsonA service of thanksgiving for the life of W. Bro John Frederick Thompson PAGDC (29th December 1957 – 25th February 2021) was held at Exeter Cathedral on Saturday 28th August 2021.

John was a highly respected vascular and general surgeon of great skill and ability with an international reputation for minimising blood transfusion at operation and for the management of thoracic outlet syndrome.

He was also passionate about Freemasonry. He believed in its ethos and its power for doing good. He was conferred the honour of Grand Rank (Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies) at a very early stage in his Masonic career in recognition of his commitment to Masonry and his labours on behalf of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.

John was diagnosed with stomach cancer just before Christmas 2018 and bore that diagnosis, and everything associated with its progression and treatment, with inspirational courage and fortitude. He will be greatly missed by his family and friends, his colleagues, his patients and his Masonic brothers.

You can see both eulogies below.

W. Bro Reuben Ayres PAGDC
Provincial Grand Charity Steward

Eulogy by W. Bro Reuben Ayres

John Thompson – The Surgeon – The Freemason

I knew John for nearly 30 years; as a close friend and an excellent clinical colleague. A larger than life figure; full of energy; highly intelligent; a great raconteur and excellent company.

Professionally, he was a highly respected vascular and general surgeon of great skill and ability who was an excellent surgical pair of hands and completely unflappable in theatre. His clinical judgement and broader medical knowledge were of the highest order.

He qualified from Charing Cross Hospital and then went to Southampton where he obtained his Masters degree, during which time he developed techniques in blood cell salvage and minimising blood transfusion at operation. At the time pioneering, these techniques proved to be life-saving and are now absorbed into standard clinical practice.

Later moving to Bristol, he held an academic post as Lecturer in Surgery before being appointed to the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital as Consultant General and Vascular Surgeon in 1993.

He developed an international reputation not only for minimising blood transfusion at operation but also for the management of thoracic outlet syndrome and other upper limb vascular conditions.

He was:

  • a Fellow of Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and of England.
  • Council Member of the Vascular Society for Great Britain and Ireland.
  • 1st surgeon elected to the council of the British Blood Transfusion Society for his work in bloodless surgery.
  • He served on many influential committees, including the Chief Medical Officer’s National Blood Transfusion Committee. 

He wrote:

  • 2 books.
  • 31 chapters.
  • and was author on >100 peer review articles.

He was a regular invited speaker at national and international vascular meetings.

Locally, he was the honorary medical officer for many years, both for the Devon County Show and the Silverton point-to-point hunt.

But the story that says more about John the surgeon than any other is the case in 2008 when a 57 year old lady fell off her bicycle in Exeter and ended up with her thigh impaled on the handlebar. John just happened to be driving past at that very moment and saw blood spurting from her femoral artery. She was literally minutes from death. John stopped, halted the flow of blood by applying direct pressure, called for an ambulance, called the hospital and asked for an operating theatre to be made available, accompanied the lady to the hospital, repaired the damaged artery himself and then returned to the accident scene to collect the lady’s bicycle.

John was also passionate about Freemasonry. He believed in its ethos, its power for doing good, and its ability to bring together those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance, regardless of race, religion, colour or class.

He was excellent company in lodge: popular, respected and a wonderful story teller; full of good humour and laughter.

He joined St George’s Lodge No.112 in Exeter in 1994 and became its Worshipful Master in 2003. He was also a member of the Lodge of Union No.444 reaching the chair in 2011 and the Chapter of Union No.444 and reached the chair in 2009. He was a member of Grandisson Chapter Rose Croix No.1132 and reached its chair in 2007 and again in 2019 shortly after his diagnosis with stomach cancer. He well knew that time was short and that he might not be able to complete his year as our head. Nonetheless he embraced the role with vigour and completed the year with great fortitude, skill and flair. He was a founder member of Okement Chapter Rose Croix No.1187 in Okehampton and a member of the prestigious Ruspini Mark Lodge No.363 in London, reaching the chair in 2015 and of Ruspini Royal Ark Mariner No.363. 

John was an excellent Masonic ritualist – virtually faultless in his delivery and always bringing out the drama of the moment and delivering the moral message with conviction.

He played an important role in the Devonshire 2012 Festival which brought in over £3½m for the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys (RMTGB), a national charity funded by Freemasons which aims to relieve poverty and advance education for children and young people. He later became a member of council and a trustee of the charity.

He was conferred the honour of Grand Rank (Past Assistant Grand Director of Ceremonies) at a very early stage in his Masonic career in recognition of his commitment to Freemasonry and his labours on behalf of the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys.

He proposed (or seconded) me into St George’s Lodge No.112, Chapter of Union No.444 and Grandisson Chapter Rose Croix No.1132 and was Master of those lodges and chapters on the evening of my joining all three. Those are precious memories for me personally.

John was diagnosed with stomach cancer just before Christmas 2018 and bore that diagnosis, and everything associated with its progression and treatment, with inspirational courage and fortitude. He will be greatly missed by his family and friends, his colleagues, his patients and his Masonic brothers. However, I am sure he would wish that we should remember the many great times we all had together with him in conversation, laughter, warmth, respect and mutual affection.

End of eulogy

Eulogy by W. Bro Jonathan Custance-Baker 

John Thompson 28th August 2021

Family and friends of John Thompson. You have already heard about John the achiever, let me tell you a little about John the man, John the family man, John the sportsman, John the entertainer.

Born in Newcastle in 1957 with a Nurse mother and a Naval Engineer father, he was the eldest of three children with a sister and a brother who is here today from Sweden. He was school in Newcastle until the family moved to Surrey. He won a scholarship to Trinity School, Croydon which he loved especially his rugby. In due course, he took great pride in the later rugby success of his sons Will & Henry as well, of course, as his beloved Chiefs.

However, at school, he did have discipline problems. I won’t go into details about his suspensions but it might have had something to do with misuse of a pellet gun and the discovery that hot light bulbs do interesting things if you spray them with cold water.

He had decided early in life to become a Doctor after watching his father having tonsils removed, by the local GP, on the kitchen table. To me, that is like deciding, as a child, to become a dentist after watching someone having root canal treatment!

After ‘A’ levels, he worked in a pathology lab which awakened his interest in blood – I do, of course, mean medically not vampirically!

He got a place at Charing Cross Medical School under a proper old-fashioned interview process which had a great deal to do with playing sport and having an interest in medicine and nothing at all to do with being PC and Woke.

In 1981 John was a young Houseman and, on his ward, was a young nurse called Fiona Clark. Love blossomed slowly and they started going out after a 1984 Christmas party at Charing Cross Hospital.

In due course, John moved to Southampton and Fi moved to Tommy’s.

For some reason which I cannot fully fathom, Fi then decided to move to Southampton. However, she hated it there and told John that she wished to return to London. John’s reply was simple: “If I ask you to marry me, will you stay?”

You will note that this was not an outright declaration but a ‘conditional contract’.

They were married in June 1987 and moved to Bristol and two years later, to Exeter where John became the youngest consultant vascular surgeon in the country.

In 1992, John was at a medical conference in Greece when Fi, who remained in England went into labour six weeks early. John made a mad dash for the airport, caught the first flight, bullied a taxi driver into breaking every speed limit and arrived at the hospital with five clear minutes to spare before Polly was born

They bought the Old Vicarage in Stoke Canon in 1993 and Will and Henry arrived in 1994 and 1995.

When the children were young, they would sometimes accompany him on his ward rounds. After the medical discussions with his team, he would turn to five-year old Polly, asking her opinion. She would then solemnly say to the patient “You must get better now”.

You have already heard what an outstanding medic John was. I would also add that there are quite a number of Premier Division rugby and football players whose careers have been enhanced or lengthened by John’s surgical skills.

John loved the outdoors, originally climbing, mountaineering and sailing and in due course with the rib which was moored at Exmouth.

Once, when windsurfing off Southampton, his mast broke which might have been problematic but John, being slightly more prepared than the average windsurfer, happened to have his Very pistol on him. He fired a flare and rescue followed.

Later, his body beautiful was habitually displayed in his Budgie Smugglers when on the annual family holiday in Mallorca.

Shooting played a major role in John’s life. This came in several parts. Firstly, the sport itself which gave John an opportunity to display his considerable skill. The next was the ability to work his dogs, Cocker Spaniels and Labradors. The third, and perhaps the most important part of John’s shooting was the social side. The days themselves and the end of season shoot dinners hosted by John & Fi at the Old Vicarage.

Parties were a great part of John’s life. From his traditional Curry and Champagne birthday party on 29th December each year, to summer barbecues with his medical team and ‘a few dozen friends’. Happy memories of seeing him, sheltering under an umbrella, turning sausages on the barbecue as yet another village fete met traditional British Summer weather.

John was a car man. This started with a Mini, he then had an MG and a Morgan. Later he had a Land Rover Defender, called Vera, and a series of Porsches.

Christmas Eve has, for many years, been the occasion when the Thompsons and the Custance Bakers gather together, test each other with Trivia questions, play silly games and then rush off madly to Midnight Mass either to ring bells or to organise the service. This year will be no different and we know that John will be looking down approvingly.

Music played a major part in John’s life. Photos of a young John Thompson as a church choir boy show him complete with ruff & gown. However, his wicked grin, glasses and strange haircut made him look less like a small angel than a demonic infant version of John Denver.

Earlier this week, we were sitting around the Thompson kitchen table discussing John’s favourite songs and Sandy Denny, lead singer of Fairport Convention, was mentioned together with the song that was played at John’s funeral. At that precise moment, that same song was played on the radio. A happy co-incidence!

On a lighter note, in his youth, John played bass guitar in a band composed of medics, a number of whom are here today but have now become Doctors, Misters and Professors. The band had the delicately-subtle medical name of “Discharge”.

He used to take part in university theatrical revues which lampooned medical staff - both senior and junior. In his British Medical Journal obituary, it was noted that “His performance, in 1986, as Judy in ‘Punch and Judy go to the marriage guidance counsellor’ was particularly memorable”.

John was intensely proud of his children and their achievements including Will’s artistic skills and Henry’s willingness to go abroad to make a career for himself.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth it was said of Cawdor “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it”.  How true of John. He faced his news with fortitude. He set milestones – for example Polly’s graduation from Medical School but, mostly, his attitude was to ignore his diagnosis, pretend it had not happened and simply try to live a normal life. I am convinced that this not only extended the time he had with us but also made it a much better time.

John was highly intelligent, intensely loyal, and a very, very good friend. Many of us knew some of his skill sets and abilities but merely had glimpses of the others; enough to know that he was truly ‘a man of many parts’. He will be sorely missed.

End of eulogy