Professor John Kenyon Mason, known to all as Ken, was born on 19 December 1919 in Lahore, India, as it then was. More formal commemorations of his passing speak of his distinguished career along three distinct paths – as Group Captain and Director of the Royal Air Force’s Aviation and Forensic Pathology Department, as Regius Professor of Forensic Medicine in the University of Edinburgh, and as Honorary Fellow in this School of Law from 1985 until his death on 26 January 2017. On these pages we celebrate his life and his contributions as a dear friend, a colleague, and as a scholar who was one of the founding fathers of the discipline of medical law in the United Kingdom.
We invite you to post your own commemorations here.
As a scholar, Ken Mason was prodigious in his outputs across aviation pathology, forensic medicine, medical law, and reproductive torts. He was the lead author of the first ever medical law textbook in the United Kingdom, Law and Medical Ethics, first published in 1983 and now in its tenth edition. He wrote this textbook (initially with Alexander McCall Smith and later with Graeme Laurie) for his beloved students, whose education was of paramount concern to Ken. Nothing was a higher priority. Ken inspired generations of students about the complexities and the moral subtleties of a field that sits squarely at the crossroads between medicine and law. His other scholarly commitment was to quality. Probably the medico-legal work of which he was most proud was his monograph, The Troubled Pregnancy, published by his alma mater, Cambridge, in 2007. This represented the culmination of his thinking on the thorny topic of the reproductive torts – questions of the legal rights and wrongs in reproduction. In characteristic style he was both humble and apologetic about its contribution. He was humble in his gratitude to Cambridge University Press for publishing his work at the age of 87, and he was apologetic in asking for the reader’s forgiveness for changing his mind on issues as the discussion progressed. But this was so very typical of Ken: he was insatiably curious and always open to new points of view.
As a colleague, Ken was generous of spirit and with his intellect. He relished the role of mentor to younger colleagues in medical law, and he was the undisputed doyen on the 4th Floor party! As time progressed and the Old College lift became increasingly unreliable, he moved to the the ground floor, where he revelled in his role as the darling of the Research Office. He was never short of a cup of coffee or piece of cake willingly brought in by Ali, Christine or Lorna. In his nimbler days, he was our formidable umpire in the annual School of Law cricket match, and his door was always open to anyone who wanted to talk about the latest test match.
As a friend, Ken was bountiful in his generosity. As Sandy McCall Smith recalls, his Christmas champagne cocktails were legendary (for which read lethal), and he was always up for a Bombay Sapphire gin. Ken lived for conviviality – he insisted on taking a proper coffee break in class with the students, and heaven help the colleague who forgot to buy the right kind of biscuits! In both work and play, Ken was an inspiration. It is very easy to use the term legend, but we suggest there are few in academia who are better qualified for the title.
Goodbye, our dear friend.
Graeme Laurie, for and on behalf of the School of Law
Message of thanks from the Mason Family
The Mason Family and Diana would like to thank all who attended Ken’s recent funeral mass and cremation, particularly those who made a special effort to travel from afar. It was a comforting and uplifting service, and it was reassuring to have everyone there with the family in the congregation. Ken would have been deeply touched by the large turn-out from his university colleagues, students and friends. His life was the Law School.
The family thank those who visited Ken during his illnesses in hospital and at home, which he bore with quiet courage, dignity and patience. Everyone’s support and encouragement has been greatly appreciated during the recent months when Ken was so ill. It was lovely that the Head of the Law School Prof Richard Sparks, flew the Old College flags at half mast. Ken would have been proud and so honoured.
Thank you all so very much.
Activities in memory of Ken
The Mason Institute is celebrating the work and contributions of Ken Mason with short pieces by colleagues in the field that explore some of the core ideas that Ken examined in his work here: Memories of Ken. Anyone interested in contributing should contact Graeme.Laurie@ed.ac.uk
The Medical Law Review will publish memories of Ken from medical law colleagues.
The official obituary of Ken Mason appeared in The Scotsman.