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Jones, Barrie Russell (1921–2009), ophthalmologist, was born on 4 January 1921 in Silverstream, near Wellington, New Zealand, the younger son of Charles Robert Jones (1883–1950), variously a ship's carpenter, farmer, builder, and entrepreneur, and his wife, Eva Ethel, née Russell (1886–1945). His mother was born in Wellington, and his father in Timaru, on the South Island. He was educated at Silverstream School and (after being withdrawn because of his allegedly disruptive behaviour, and sent to be educated at a small dames' school) Wellesley College, Wellington, where he exhibited a natural talent for mathematics and science. He pursued these interests at Victoria University College, Wellington, where he took a degree in natural sciences. A legacy from his grandfather enabled him to pursue medical studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin. He qualified MB ChB in 1947, after which he was a house surgeon in the eye department of Wellington Hospital, and then a senior registrar in Dunedin, working under the renowned ophthalmologist Rowland Wilson (who had done important research on trachoma while at the Gizeh Ophthalmic Memorial Laboratory in Cairo). On 23 December 1946, in Wellington, he married Pauline Monkman (b. 1921), who was originally from Harrogate, Yorkshire. They had one daughter, Jenny (b. 1947), and three sons, Graham (b. 1950), Andrew (b. 1953), and Peter (b. 1957).

In 1951, encouraged by Wilson, Jones and his family moved to London, where he undertook postgraduate training at Moorfields Eye Hospital and obtained a part-time research appointment at the newly formed Institute of Ophthalmology. He originally intended to return to New Zealand on completion of his training, but he stayed in England and in 1957 was appointed senior lecturer at the institute and an honorary consultant at Moorfields. In 1963 he became the first professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of London, which also increased his influence within Moorfields Hospital, where he encouraged the development of microsurgery and carried out an administrative reorganization, grouping researchers into clusters devoted to investigating particular areas, including specific diseases. This had a noticeable increase in the effectiveness of the research capability of the hospital and institute, making them world leaders in many areas and a magnet for talented researchers worldwide.

Jones himself became expert in the surgery of the eyelids (often deformed by trachoma), and in the surgery of the lacrimal drainage system, inventing a new operation which was widely copied. He also undertook ground-breaking research into trachoma, working with Eric Dunlop, a consultant venereologist at the London Hospital, on the diagnosis and treatment of chlamydial infection, a major cause of blindness in the developing world, and undertaking fieldwork in Iran (accompanied by his wife, Pauline) from 1965 to 1977 on the isolation and culture of chlamydia trachomatis.

Jones was increasingly exercised by the disparity in health spending in the developed and developing worlds, and by the prevalence of diseases of the eye in the developing world which were treatable, but which went untreated, and resulted in millions of cases of unnecessary blindness. In 1980 he resigned his chair at the University of London to found the International Centre for Eye Health, which was opened in 1981. This became incorporated within the Institute of Ophthalmology, and he soon became first Rothes professor of preventive ophthalmology. The International Centre for Eye Health became a world leader in the understanding and treatment of many causes of blindness in the developing world, including trachoma and onchocerciasis (river blindness). Jones retired in 1986, but continued to take a leading role in the centre (latterly based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) for many years.

Although naturally shy, Jones was an engaging and entertaining lecturer, and a very effective promoter of the causes dearest to his heart, most notably the treatment and prevention of curable diseases of the eye in the developing world. According to one colleague, Douglas Coster, he ‘had a drive that set him apart’ (BMJ, 5 Sept 2009). According to another, Peter Leaver, he ‘possessed not only a powerful intellect, but a range of other assets, including excellent clinical judgement, fine surgical skills, a highly developed sense of curiosity, boundless energy and determination, all encompassed by personal charm and a puckish sense of humour’, but he ‘would allow no obstacle to stand in his way’ (Munk's Roll). Norman Ashton described him as being ‘like an oak tree growing up through concrete’ (BMJ, 5 Sept 2009).

Jones was appointed CBE in 1985. He used the proceeds of the King Faisal international prize in medicine in 1986 to fund a clinical trial in Nigeria. He received the Gonin medal of the International Council of Ophthalmology (the highest award in international ophthalmology) in 1990 and the global achievement award of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness in 2004. He was a keen gardener. He and Pauline moved back to New Zealand in 2002, settling in Tauranga, on the North Island, where he was able to grow a more interesting collection of plants. He died there of pneumonia on 19 August 2009. His ashes were buried with those of his grandparents and other relations at Karori cemetery on 28 February 2010. He was survived by his wife, Pauline, and their four children.

Alex May

Sources  

Daily Telegraph (1 Sept 2009) · The Times (4 Sept 2009) · BMJ (5 Sept 2009) · The Lancet (7 Nov 2009) · University of Otago Magazine (Feb 2010) · Munk, Roll; munksroll.rcplondon.ac.uk/Biography/Details/6168, accessed on 16 Aug 2012 · www.moorfields.nhs.uk/healthprofessionals/moorfieldsalumniassociation/alumninews/obituaries, accessed on 16 Aug 2012 · livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/biogs/E001033b.htm, accessed on 16 Aug 2012 · www.surgeons.org/member-services/in-memoriam/barrie-russell-jones/, accessed on 16 Aug 2012 · J. R. Jones, ‘Catching up with the Joneses’, www.jennyrobinjones.com/jrj/tiki-index.php?page=Family+History&highlight=catching%20up, accessed on 16 Aug 2012

Likenesses  

obituary photographs