The Independent London Newspaper
26th April 2019

OBITUARY: Dr John Horder, ‘father of modern general practice’ who excelled as a pianist and artist

    Dr John Horder

    Dr John Horder… unique talents

    Published: 14 June, 2012

    DR John Horder, who has died aged 92, was known as the father of modern general practice and played a key role in the development of GP services across the UK from the birth of the NHS in 1948.

    As well as being a GP in Camden and a leading advocate of community- based health services, Dr Horder excelled in a number of fields: he was an accomplished painter of watercolours and a brilliant pianist. He wrote on a wide variety of topics, having the ability to master anything he found interesting enough to warrant his attention. His life was full of music, painting, literature, philosophy and medicine. 

     Dr Horder grew up in Ealing, west London. His grandfather was a Congregational minister, a childhood influence that inspired a lifelong love of organ music. Aged 10, he was allowed to sit alongside the organist and went on to become an accomplished musician. Later in life, he was given the keys to St Mary’s Church in Elsworthy Road, Primrose Hill, so he could practice there, as well as regularly playing at Tewkesbury Cathedral in Gloucestershire.

    His mother Emma had played the violin and attended the Royal Academy before having children. He originally wanted to become a professional musician, but was persuaded by a teacher his talents were best placed elsewhere. 

    Dr Horder was educated at Lancing in Sussex after his family had moved to Haywards Heath. The school was High Church and he sat through services twice a day. His interest in religious philosophy and a love of churches continued throughout his life, though he also described himself as agnostic. 

    He loved to travel to Europe, and spent time in France, Italy and Spain, often visiting the grandest churches. His trips were also inspired by his love of landscape painting, another area of expertise. His works were collected in a book and sold to raise funds for the Royal College of General Practitioners.

    Going up to Oxford in 1938, he initially studied classics but switched to medicine, where he felt his talents would be best served given his innate interest in human nature and the threat of war.

    His degree was interrupted by the war; he became an officer in the Army’s Communications Corps, but his service was cut short through ill health. He was diagnosed with severe depression and discharged. 

    He returned to Oxford, where he met Elizabeth, whom he had previously encountered in Paris before the war. They fell in love and married, soon to settle in Regent’s Park Road, Primrose Hill; he was 20, she 19.

    He was in the midst of his finals as the NHS was being established in 1948. Dr Horder joined the James Wigg Practice in Kentish Town as a locum. While he had originally felt that general practice was a career for doctors who did not have a specialism, he found the responsibility of looking after the primary care of thousands and the daily contact with his patients so inspiring he dedicated his working life to it. 

    He was president of the Royal College of General Practitioners from 1979 to 1982. Other posts included becoming the first UK GP to be appointed a consultant to the World Health Organisation, ensuring his expertise was used on a global scale. His knowledge was drawn on by European countries, earning a host of honorary memberships of colleges and societies. He was even labeled “the Pope of Portuguese general practice”.

    He was appointed a CBE and in a Desert Island Discs-style public interview he spoke of being Sylvia Plath’s GP when the poet took her life, and of wondering whether he did all he could to help her. 

    Dr Horder’s friends will recall his wonderful company and the compassion that meant the care of others was at the centre of everything he did. 

    From making model diggers with levers to pull and push for his grandchildren to speaking at length on philosophy and the arts, to listening to the problems of his patients and to the more solitary pastime of creating watercolour masterpieces, Dr Horder’s talents were unique.


    special man

    he was a special man and GP. No ego like so many today. I remember him as a child not judgemental just dedicated to helping and sometimes that involved just listening.

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