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Remembering Dr. John Gosling

John Arthur Gosling, MD, MBChB, FRCS(E), FAS died on the 17th July 2020 at the age of 81, surrounded by family, back in the area east of Manchester where he spent his childhood. He is survived by his two daughters and five grandchildren.

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it. “   Mark Twain, a favorite quote of John’s.

I had known John for 50 years, working with him for many of these years and I regarded him as a great anatomist, a mentor and a close friend.

Born at the beginning of the second world war, John came from a working-class background and went to Hyde County Grammar School before studying medicine at Manchester University, being awarded the Douglas Prize in Anatomy during his preclinical training and graduating with MB ChB in 1963. Following his house jobs, he returned to the University as an Anatomical Demonstrator to commence his training for surgery. Realizing that his career was in Anatomy John was able to continue in Manchester, rising up through the ranks quickly as he excelled at teaching and research, acquiring his MD degree in 1967 and ultimately being appointed to a personal professorship in 1976 – the youngest at that time in Manchester. In 1989 he took up the chair in Anatomy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong for a period of 10 years. Between 1967 and 1991 he made several visits as visiting professor to departments in California for collaborative research and teaching. In Stanford this became a frequent venture and his presence formed part of the team to rescue Anatomy, putting it into the Department of Surgery and reorganizing the teaching, initially with outside teachers brought in for short periods, both from the USA and overseas. In 1991 he was appointed a full professor at Stanford, working there until he finally retired in 2019. He received 9 teaching awards at Stanford and two at Hong Kong. In 1991 he was elected to Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

He contributed to the administrative side of academia, most notably following his election to the Council of the Anatomical Society (at that time Anatomical Society of Great Britain & Ireland), ultimately serving as Honorary Secretary. He was much sought after as an external examiner, both in the UK and at numerous sites overseas.

His research embodied work on the genitourinary system and its innervation, resulting in 117 publications in refereed journals, 49 book and book chapters, and 117 oral presentations at learned societies, symposia and seminars. This research considerably advanced our understanding of this system with one paper with John Dixon in 1972 particularly standing out – “Structural evidence in support of a urinary tract pacemaker.” In my opinion, this discovery might have been seriously considered for a Nobel prize, had their names been submitted. Papers ranged across the kidney, ureter, bladder and urethra, many concentrating on incontinence.

John was the instigator and one of the authors of the BMA prize winning book “Human Anatomy: Color Atlas and Text” which has seen 6 editions since 1985.

His other joy in life was climbing. In his younger days this included ice and rock climbing, although in later years he concentrated on rocks and later still as his health limited him, only rock climbing in the gym. He is world renowned; some climbs being named after him. It was his climbing that brought him to California with his research and he was good at combining work with his sport. 

This productive gentleman will be a sad loss to the world, having made his mark as a very able world renowned anatomist, departmental chair, climber and great family man.

Written by Ian Whitmore