Like all of us, I have been deeply moved by the death of John Emery. I wish to contribute to his memory by sharing some of the thoughts published about John a few years ago, when John's achievements in the field of Sudden Infant Death (or Cot Death) were honoured by the European Society for the Study and Prevention of Infant Death. Here are some aspects of what we knew about John at that time.
In Honour of John L. Emery
We wish to honour one of the best known researchers who, in many respects, led the way for our fight against the death of infants. John is a paediatrician in heart and mind, even if the greater part of his professional life was spent as a paediatric pathologist. After graduating from Bristol University, John, a pacifist, refused military service and worked instead as a doctor in dangerous conditions during the bombardments of the city. After the war he moved to Sheffield to become the first paediatric pathologist appointed to the Children's Hospital. His creativity and hard work contributed to the development of an outstanding department - a source of numerous scientific, social, and preventive activities.
John has traveled widely and befriended many well-known paediatricians and pathologists from all over the world. He has always shown his strong belief in international contacts and education, and was active in international societies. Many of his students now occupy prestigious positions throughout the world. For many years he took part in meetings with Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund Freud, to elaborate on the psychosocial aspects of paediatric diseases.
John has always considered Cot Death as an important part of infant mortality. He has shown equal interest in both the scientific and in the human aspects of the Cot Death tragedies. He has been, since the early days, involved in the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death in the UK. He was, for a time, chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee and was actively involved in the support of parents who had lost a child to Cot Death. John also participated in the meeting held in Brussels in 1990 that led to the establishment of the European Society for the Study and Prevention of Infant Death.
John's scientific activities were particularly creative and diverse. Quoting one of his friends, Johannes Huber, "It is very humiliating to find, when going through the old literature, that in Cot Death, John has done and seen and interpreted literally everything before anybody else".
According to John's friends, he is described as "an ambitious man with strong ethical and philosophical impulses" and also as "a very critical mind, and a provocative person, whose way of bringing forth his hypotheses forced many to react". Above all, John has always "set great value on intellectual integrity and clarity of thinking" that never masked his sharp sense of humor. We all know John busily drawing during scientific sessions, making sketches of speakers and participants alike. He is said to possess over 100 sketchbooks, that could someday be the source of an interesting exhibition.
Just as science for the people has been his major concern, John has always been interested in art. A less well-known part of John's busy life concerns his previous positions as president of the Sheffield Literary and Poetry Society, of the Sheffield Fine Art Society or of the Sheffield Museum Society. In his private life, John is described as a most loyal friend. John and Mytts have now been married for well over 50 years. They have 6 children and 18 grandchildren, who occupy a growing part of John's life. At 83, John is still an active and creative gardener.
To end this brief summary of a life-long devotion to the preservation of human life and to the enhancement of the quality of life, I wish to quote John in answering the invitation to be honoured during the ESPID meeting in Rouen: "I am extremely sorry not to be with you all. As you will probably appreciate, things like being guest of honour are not my cup of tea. John".
Thank you, John.
Kahn A. In honour of John L Emery. J SIDS Inf Mort 1997; 2: 175-176.