Joseph Lyons

JOSEPH Lyons, who as a Yorkshire medical officer introduced a way of treating smallpox which later became the national standard, has died aged 93.

He was born in Leeds the youngest of three children of immigrants from Eastern Europe, and educated at Leeds Central High School, where he also became Yorkshrie Junior chess champion.

From there, he went to Leeds University Medical School which he entered in 1941. He later took a diploma in public health and in 1947 was appointed Medical Officer of Health for Todmorden and its surrounding district.

His significant contribution to the control of smallpox came in March 1953 following an outbreak of the disease in the area.

On the advice of an epidemiologist, Cyril Dixon, he implemented ring vaccination which eventually became standard practice for controlling smallpox.

Instead of vaccinating everyone they traced the social network of people suffering from smallpox, tracing it back to the original contact so that only a small percentage of people needed vaccinating. If everyone had been vaccinated more people would have died from that than from the disease itself, as was later to be proved in another outbreak when a larger percentage of the population was vaccinated.

In 1956, Dr Lyons was appointed Medical Officer of Health for Morley and Ossett district, and four years later became Deputy County Medical Officer of Health for the West Riding.

In 1964, he was appointed county medical officer for Devon and moved to Torquay, where he spent the rest of his life.

After local government reorganisation in 1974 his position disappeared and became part of a wider remit which meant he had to apply for his own job. He was successfully appointed to the new position of Area Medical Officer for Devon.

When he retired in 1982, he worked part-time as one of a group of emergency medical planners for natural disasters as part of a national committee of medical professionals.

His elder brother was Sir Rudolph Lyons, QC, a former Recorder of Leeds.

Dr Lyons was predeceased in 1992 by his wife Hettie, whom he met at Leeds University and who became a teacher.

He is survived by his son Andrew, who with his wife Harriet, lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, where both are anthropologists.