Pemberton Lecture

The John Pemberton Lecture

In 1933 John Pemberton with other medical students at University College London offered first aid to the Jarrow Hunger Marchers. Concerned by the marchers’ condition, he wrote an article on “Malnutrition in England”, linking malnutrition to the level of unemployment benefits. Thus started a career and lifelong concern for social medicine and public health. After completing medical training, he worked with Sir John Boyd Orr on a nutrition survey of some 5000 British children. In 1941 he was appointed tutor (later senior lecturer and reader) in the University of Sheffield Medical School and worked on vitamin deficiency with Professor Sir Hans Krebs. In 1958 he took up the Chair of Social and Preventative Medicine at Queen’s University, Belfast, a position he held until retirement. In 1976 Professor Pemberton returned to live in the Peak District just outside Sheffield and continued to be active in academic public health medicine through an honorary appointment in Community Medicine at the University of Sheffield. He died on 7 February 2010.

Whilst on study leave in the United States during 1954-5 John Pemberton met Harold Willard. Together they started the ‘International Corresponding Club’, which became the International Epidemiological Association (IEA). On return to the UK in 1956 he took a leading role in founding the Society for Social Medicine (SSM) (see for example J Epidemiol Community Health, 2002, 56,342-6). In fifty years these have grown to become leading societies, nationally and internationally, and members have contributed widely to developments in many areas of epidemiology and social medicine.

In September 2007 the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Society for Social Medicine was held jointly with the European section of the International Epidemiological Association. This meeting at University College Cork, Ireland was the fiftieth anniversary of the first meetings of both the IEA (first in Sept 1957 in Noordvijk, Holland) and SSM (first in Sept 1957 in Birmingham, UK). In celebration of these fiftieth anniversaries and in recognition of Professor Pemberton’s role in the foundation of both societies, SSM chose to establish an annual John Pemberton lecture. The inaugural John Pemberton lecture was presented by Professor Jørn Olsen (president of the IEA)