John Halliday Croom had a lifelong association with Edinburgh. He was born in that city, coming from a distinguished medical lineage, his father being David Halliday Croom, a well known general practitioner, and his grandfather, Sir Halliday Croom, an eminent obstetrician and gynaecologist in Victorian Edinburgh.
John was educated at Glenalmond. Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, proceeding to the University of Edinburgh where he graduated in medicine in 1933. After early appointments in the Royal Infirmary, he decided on a career as a physician and obtained the important teaching post of clinical tutor (a term peculiar to the then Edinburgh teaching establishment) in the medical firm of A Fergus Hart and W Ritchie Russell. This post included inculcation of the elements of clinical examination to the large, but appreciative, classes of undergraduates in the years leading up to the second world war. Before the outbreak of war John had served in the Territorial Army for some years, in the 155 (Lowland) Field Ambulance. In 1939 he was appointed physician in the RAMC, with subsequent war service in hospitals in France, the Middle East, Malta and Italy. He was mentioned in despatches and by the cessation of hostilities had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was awarded the Territorial Decoration in 1946.
On his return to the Royal Infirmary, that same year, he was appointed consultant physician and held this post until he retired in 1974. From 1960-66 he was attached as a NHS consultant to the University department of therapeutics where he and Sir Derrick Dunlop [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.170] who were great friends, formed an impressive team of teachers. In 1963 he was appointed as a part-time senior lecturer in the University. During this period he was also a consultant physician at the nearby Chalmers Hospital.
John Croom was a general physician with a particular interest in diabetes mellitus, and for several years was closely associated with the diabetic and dietetic department of the Royal Infirmary. He was instrumental in setting up peripheral diabetic clinics in Fife, the Borders and East Lothian, which proved to be of considerable benefit to patients living in the more outlying areas of the south-eastern region of Scotland.
Amongst other important consultant and advisory appointments, he was principal medical officer to the Standard Life Assurance Company, medical adviser to the Royal Bank of Scotland and to the Northern Lighthouse Board, and from 1970-75 was honorary consultant physician to the Army in Scotland.
He gave long and distinguished service to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh; from 1950-70 he held successively the offices of secretary, councillor, and vice-president. He was president from 1970-73. In 1968, in the light of the report of the Royal Commission on Medical Education, a committee was set up at the RCPE and chaired by John Croom. The subsequent ‘Report of the Committee to consider the future of the College’ was produced with remarkable expedition - by October 1969 - and is now customarily referred to as ‘The Croom Report’. This was destined to have far reaching effects on postgraduate medical education and training in Scotland. The Committee also recommended the creation of the category of collegiate membership of the College, as a means of securing more active participation by the members. The move proved outstandingly successful and the collegiate members, now a flourishing body, have appropriately commemorated his name in the prestigious yearly Croom Lecture.
In his later years, following his retirement from the Royal Infirmary in 1974, he continued to devote much of his time to the development of postgraduate medical education both within the Royal College and elsewhere, with service on several committees. He was chairman of the Scottish Council of Postgraduate Medical Education from 1974-79; chairman of the Scottish Health Service Council 1972-75, and of the Scottish Committee of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) from 1972-77. He was a member of the board of governors of St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh. In 1972 he was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and of the American College of Physicians in 1973. He was knighted in 1975.
John Halliday Croom (‘JHC’) was an astute clinician who was held in the highest esteem by his colleagues, being one of the last of the old school of general physicians to serve the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, for which that hospital had become so justly famous over the years. His good counsel, sagacity, and sometimes downright blunt common sense, were much appreciated by many generations of his junior staff and students. His genuine interest and courtesy made him much beloved and long remembered by his grateful patients.
‘JHC’ was born at the end of the Edwardian area and perhaps in many respects he remained an Edwardian all his life. His very elegant attire, always with a buttonhole and bowler hat, made him a familiar figure and on retirement he became sadly missed from the corridors of the Royal Infirmary. There was also his other hat: at the weekend he might be seen, temporarily diverted to the Royal Infirmary, with cap, tweeds and binoculars, on his way to an enjoyable day’s outing on the turf. As his health deteriorated he had to give up his outside activities, which included golf and fishing, but he pursued his love of racing almost to the end.
His marriage in 1940 to Valerie, daughter of David Samuel, a general practitioner, was a very happy one. His wife shared his interests fully and they were an extremely hospitable couple. During his final illness she gave him unstinting support and devoted care. There were two children of the marriage: a son, David Halliday, and a daughter, Elizabeth Anne.
During John’s funeral service, in the Church of St John, Princes Street, a lone fiddler playing out the poignant strains of an early Scots lament was suddenly accompanied by the siren of a passing ambulance making its life saving dash to the modern day intensive care unit of the Royal Infirmary. A conjunction which, perhaps, symbolized the long continuity of tradition in Scottish medicine and John Croom’s notable contribution to it.
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
[Brit.med.J., 1986, 292, 1146, 1211; Lancet, 1986, 1, 924; The Times, 17 Apr 1986]