Obituary: Allan St John Dixon (1922 – 2014)

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Jim Walsh writes:

We regret to announce the death of Allan St John Dixon OBE MD FRCP in his 92nd year at his home in Cornwall on 19 June 2014. He had been a member of the Society for over 60 years. He married Shelia Brown in the Library of Conway Hall on 24 March 1951: the Humanist wedding ceremony was performed by Hector Hawton.

Allan was a third generation Society member with many cousins, uncles and aunts listed in the membership records over the course of the 20th Century. His father was Percival St John Dixon who joined the Society in 1899 and became a Trustee in 1933. His mother was Florence Dixon (neé Lidstone). Both the Dixons and Lidstones were prominent members of the Society. Thomas Dixon, Allan’s paternal grandfather, was a member of the Society before 1850 and once he had returned from South Africa in 1885 he resumed his membership. In the intervening years Thomas built a series of hotels in South Africa, most notably the ‘Dixon Hotel’ which became, Baden-Powell’s HQ during the siege of Mafeking.

Nicholas and Annie Lidstone, Allan’s maternal grandparents, married in 1875 and swiftly became members of the Society. Nicholas spent many years maintaining the then rather decrepit South Place Chapel, courtesy of his knowledge of the building trade. In the 1920s though Nicholas turned his hand to being the Treasurer of the Building Fund, which called upon members to raise the last £15,000 out of £45,000 to build F. Herbert Mansford’s design for Conway Hall. All five of Nicholas’s children and respective spouses were also inducted into the Society with many sitting on the General Committee and various sub-committees. In the archives there is still the original invitation to one of the five, Miss Ada Lidstone, to attend a ‘conversazione’ with Moncure Conway in 1905.

When I visited Allan and Sheila at their home in Cornwall in 2011, Allan recollected several personal Society memories, the first of which was getting lost at the age of five on a Society ramble on the Isle of Wight. A policeman looked after him until his parents found him once more. Then at the age of 13, Allan produced a play at Conway Hall called ‘Mr Hackett’s Alibi’ with his cousins enlisted as actors. In 1938 Allan attended Lord Horder’s ConwayMemorial Lecture entitled ‘Obscurantism’ and remembers being deeply impressed by the views and opinions put forward.

Aside from his marriage to Sheila in the Library, Allan’s connection to the Society would come in and out of focus over the years depending on his own professional career path and geographic location but also on his perception of the Society at any one time. In the early 1960s, after a swathe of letters and articles appeared in The Ethical Record, Allan felt obliged to resign on the grounds that he couldn’t abide the Society ‘publishing internal rancour’ where the then General Secretary and other Trustees were being traduced: personages, as he explained, whom he both knew and respected.

Professionally, Allan’s career as medical doctor took him all over the world. In 1947 he went from China to New Zealand following in the globe-trotting footsteps of his grandfather and father, an international mining engineer. However, eventually Allan returned to the UK to train as a rheumatologist and finally settled in Bath both to raise his family and become a Consultant Physician at the Royal United Hospital and Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases. Whilst there he founded 8 self-help medical charities, notably among them NOS (National Osteoporosis Society), NASS (National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society), Remedi and RICE (Research Institute for the Care of the Elderly), for which he was awarded the OBE. Allan is survived by his wife, Sheila, their two children and four grandchildren.

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