Elected: 1995
Discipline: Biomedical and Cognitive Sciences
Professor John Kenyon Mason CBE FRSE

Regius Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine, University of Edinburgh.

Professor John Kenyon (Ken) French Mason, died on 26th January 2017 at the age of 97. He was born in Lahore, India (as it then was) on 19th December 1919 while his father was serving in the Royal Air Force. After completing his education at Downside School, Somerset, he graduated BA in 1939 from Peterhouse College, Cambridge, continuing his medical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. He took the MB (Cambridge) in 1943. Thus began a journey along no fewer than three distinct career paths, along each of which he left his own distinct milestones.

Ken Mason’s interest in aviation matters stemmed from his wartime service, in his medical capacity, with the RAF during the Second World War. After the War he continued to serve, developing the RAF’s aviation pathology services during the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. This required him to confront a troubling issue that he was later to consider in his medico-legal writing: the legitimacy or otherwise of using research data that had been obtained unethically. Aviation medicine in the post-war period was faced with a real dilemma as to whether or not to use valuable data that had been obtained through the use of non-consenting subjects. Ken Mason’s handling of this issue was typical of his whole approach to medico-legal problems – he was firm in his principles, but understood the moral complexities of a situation. Over the years, he worked at the very forefront of important developments in aviation pathology. He investigated many aviation incidents, some of which could be harrowing even to the seasoned forensic pathologist. He recounted how investigating a civil aviation accident in West Africa he was required to carry out his investigations in a mass grave with a bulldozer ready and waiting to complete the burial. Sometimes this work could result in important improvement on aircraft safety.