John Donaghy was born in Holywood, Co Down,and died while on holiday in Spain. His father, Matthew George Donaghy, was a police officer and his mother, Julia Brady, came of farming stock on both sides of her family.
John’s first appointment, in 1944, was to the Mater Infirmorum Hospital, where he had been a student. He was rejected for the medical services of the armed forces on health grounds and worked for a short time in general practice. From 1945-47 he served in Crumpsall Hospital, Manchester, and then went to the Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith. He subsequently became chief assistant in medicine at the Sheffield Royal Infirmary, returning to the Mater Infirmorum Hospital in 1948 as consultant physician.
He brought with him an enthusiasm for investigative clinical medicine which had a strong impact on the hospital, and also on doctors who sought his advice in consultation. There are no erudite publications to prolong his memory, but there are many who will always be grateful for his insistence on the teaching of basic, fundamental medicine at the bedside. He was a devoted teacher who regarded his association with students as a privilege.
Extensive and successful as was John’s professional career, it was only one strand in a life into which was woven a deep love for his family, his country and his faith. His horizon was wide enough; his father was an officer of the old Royal Irish Constabulary and John was born into an Ireland still united under the Crown. But although his early appointments were in English hospitals, it was to the Mater Infirmorum that he devoted himself with a fierce loyalty that was characteristic of him.
As a university representative in the old Northern Ireland Senate he seized every opportunity to draw attention to the difficulties experienced by the hospital which was in those days still excluded from the National Health Service. But he had the joy, before he died, of seeing new buildings well on the way to completion.
Over and above his work as clinician and teacher, John had a passionate concern for a philosophy of medicine so much wider than mere bioethics. For generations of students he interpreted medical ethics with admirable adherence both to theological orthodoxy and scientific truth, between which there was, for him, no hint of conflict. Some students may have found his approach too scholastic for their youthful emotions, but they never had to complain of ambiguity.
Neither medicine nor politics absorbed him totally. He was a considerable Irish scholar, speaking the language with enthusiasm and elegance. He also had an informed interest in the field of Celtic art.
John was never careless in his speech. Even in heated disagreement he spoke slowly, with a clarity and formality which sometimes disconcerted his close colleagues, but neither friend or foe ever heard him use an unconsidered or discourteous word.
Loving loyalty to his religious faith was the mainspring of his personal and professional life. His devotion to his hospital, his work for the Guild of Catholic Doctors and his ethical stance, all stemmed from that strong root. It was typical of the man that immediately after retiring he embarked on a serious course of Biblical theology and had just completed a thesis before leaving for the holiday from which he never returned.
For many years John suffered from major illnesses, including a need for cardiac surgery, which would have defeated a lesser man. He showed great courage in facing them, helped by the devoted attention of his wife Una whom he had married in 1947. They had seven children: one is an orthopaedic surgeon in Canada, two are in general practice, one is a nurse, and three became teachers.
On May 12, 1986, John was invested with the insignia of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a papal honour awarded egregia opera studioque conspicuis. We had no premonition at that time, but there could have been no better epitaph.
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme