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John G. Kirker 1922 – 2011

Ted Reynolds (left) and John Kirker

Ted Reynolds (left) and John Kirker (right)

The death of Dr. John Kirker on November 11th 2011 at the age of 89 years after a short illness is sad news for the Irish and International Epilepsy Community. John was Ireland’s first and most long-serving epileptologist from shortly after the Second World War until his passing, when he was still active as President of the Irish Epilepsy Association, Brainwave.

John’s birth and early education were in England, where his father was an Irish born Royal Naval surgeon. He trained in medicine at Trinity College, Dublin during the Second World War. After his internship at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital in Dublin he won a Travelling Scholarship in 1948/1949 to study electroencephalography and its clinical application with William Lennox at the Boston Children’s Hospital and, briefly, with Frederick Gibbs in Chicago and Herbert Jasper in Montreal, all pioneers in the new technology. This experience stimulated his career-long interest and commitment to Epileptology.

On his return to Dublin he was appointed Consultant Physician to Sir Patrick Dun’s and St. Patrick’s Hospitals but he also became Ireland’s first epilepsy specialist, with additional responsibility for the development of EEG services throughout the country, including the Richmond, later Beaumont, Neurosurgical Service in Dublin, where he continued to report on video-EEG until the 1990s.

John was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in 1956 and with his interest in medical education became the College’s first Director of Examinations. Later he was Vice-President (1981) and then President of the College from 1983-1985. He was also Chairman of the Medical Education Committee of the Medical Council of Ireland.

He joined the Executive Committee of the new Irish Epilepsy Association in 1967, was Vice-Chairman during the 1970’s and, following the retirement of Jack Lyons, served as the third President from 1982 until his death almost 30 years later. In 1993 he was a founding member of the Irish Epilepsy League, who honour him by funding the annual Kirker Prize for the best epilepsy research in Ireland.

I first met John at International Epilepsy Conferences in the 1970’s, including the 8th IBE/ILAE International Symposium in Dublin in 1976. Already he had been one of the earliest to receive the IBE/ILAE Ambassador for Epilepsy Award in 1974. His particular interests and achievements on the European and International stage were in relation to Driving and to Education. He was Chairman of the IBE Commission on Driving from 1989-2001, including the organisation of Driving and Epilepsy Workshops in Brussels in 1995 and 1996. This led, via his membership of the Advisory Board, to the European Union Directive on Driving which is currently being implemented throughout Europe. With his focus on epileptology John also served as a member of the Advisory Committee on Medical Training of the European Union. His immense contribution to Irish and European epileptology was acknowledged in 2007 when he received the IBE bi-annual Social Accomplishment in Epilepsy Award, the first Irishman to be given this rare honour.

John was a charming, erudite and committed colleague and friend in the Epilepsy Movement over many decades. As President of ILAE it was my pleasure to work with him as Chairman of the Organising Committee of the 22nd ILAE/IBE International Congress in Dublin in 1997. This was one of the most successful Congresses with a record-breaking attendance and the almost simultaneous launch of the ILAE/IBE/WHO Global Campaign against Epilepsy in Geneva and in Dublin, the latter with the support of the Irish President, Mary Robinson. In the last 5 years John has been very supportive of my interest in Robert Bentley Todd (1809-1860), another distinguished Irish physician, who first developed the concept of electrical discharges in epilepsy. With John’s assistance we have been pursuing the Todd family tree from Dublin, through Northern Ireland, back to Scotland.

John accepted his sudden terminal illness with great courage and equanimity. His wife, Elizabeth, and son, Stephen (Consultant in Rehabilitation Medicine) and his family have much to be proud of, and people with epilepsy in Ireland and beyond have much to be grateful for, in John’s dedication and achievements.

Respectfully submitted by Dr. E.H.Reynolds, Past President ILAE.

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