A Celebration of the life of John Lee MD
This address was given at a Service of Thanksgiving for
Ten years ago, 1994, I was on the telephone to someone in America, working on a portfolio of health products, when I happened to ask “what is all this fuss about progesterone in America?” “You don’t know? Let me fax you something over right now.”
The fax sprang into action and a long, long fax started to roll out all over the desk. It was the beginning of John Lee’s very first book Natural Progesterone, which he had published himself. I remember grabbing the reels of paper and leaping into the car as my partner Brian and I went off to lunch. “Oh this is amazing” I remember saying as I scanned the material, and I read him John’s story about the druids the mistletoe and progesterone, which I’m sure you all recognise.
I wasted no time in tracking down the man who’d written this amazing book. “Come over to England” I begged. “We’ll arrange a seminar for you, and you can put these amazing ideas of yours to the British.”
He came, and gave his first UK seminar - by no means his last. The day before, we spent at home with him in Sussex. “What would you like to do today? I remember asking at breakfast that day. “Aren’t we close to the battle of Hastings?” he said. We drove him to the battlefield.
As soon as we stepped onto the site, he took over, “you see Harold came this way from the North. And William came up that way from the coast. William was at a disadvantage, as you can see, because his men had to fight uphill. But Harold made a big mistake. Do you know what it was?” We shook our heads, taken aback that an American, a Californian even, would know way more about something that took place here nearly a 1000 years ago than we did.
“Breakfast!” he said, “That was his big mistake. Harold marched his men through the night to reach William, but he failed to rest them or breakfast them before he sent them into battle! Imagine how different British history might have been!”
That told me a lot about John Lee. He was a man with an insatiable interest in life, and when he got into a particular subject he got right down to the core of it. He had obviously researched the Battle of Hastings before he arrived.
This same thoroughness was applied to everything John did. One of the seminal moments in his career was a lecture he attended, given by biochemist Ray Peat, at the Ortho-molecular Medical Society in San Francisco, on oestrogen and progesterone. Fascinated, John collared Peat for over an hour after the lecture, and took from him a list of more then 80 scientific references on the subject.
Hardly anyone, except researchers, actually follows up scientific references. John, a family doctor (what we call a GP) did. He got hold of every single paper Peat had listed and read them. But each of those papers had at least 50 more references. John got hold of those and read them as well.
After months of scrutinising those papers John Lee took the step that was to change his life (and ours) so dramatically. He began prescribing a progesterone cream to his female patients with osteoporosis. In doing so, he stepped completely outside current medical practice. Yet he had investigated his subject so well beforehand that the results he obtained exceeded even his expectations.
John remained a family doctor in private practice for many years after that, and by all accounts he was an exceptionally kind and conscientious one, driving out to see patients who needed him, when his contemporaries would have insisted on their patients coming to them.
He never became a researcher, never conducted a formal clinical trial. Instead he observed each of his patients in detail, tested their hormone levels, tested their bone density, and above all he took the time to talk to them. This was the old way of doing medicine, the way that doctors had used to discover great medical truths for generations (alas no more).
It was his greatest strength. A researcher would have taken a small slice, a single item of what John was observing and spent years testing whether or not it was true. John stood back, as it were, and watched the whole spectrum of his patients’ reactions – and finally he saw not one symptom but a whole syndrome – he called it oestrogen dominance.
It is given to very few doctors to identify a syndrome in human health. John achieved that and dedicated the rest of his life to telling the medical profession and women throughout the world what he had discovered.
That first book that had rolled through my fax machine 10 years ago, and which John had published out of his own pocket - was followed by all the books that I’m sure you now know.
He had retired from his practice by then, and teamed up with science writer Virginia Hopkins. They were taken on by no less a publisher than Warner who published:
What your doctor may not tell you about menopause
What your doctor may not tell you about pre-menopause
What your doctor may not tell you about breast cancer
They have been read by millions of women, doctors and researchers.
The effect has been enormous. It is impossible to calculate how many lives he has probably saved, how many women have been spared from breast cancer.
The number of women who lead more comfortable and productive lives through the years of menopause and beyond are surely many more.
Medical researchers have taken up the cause on both sides of the Atlantic, and the clinical trials that need to follow John’s great work are well under way. They will continue for many years until the practices that John first tested all those years ago in San Francisco have become standard medicine around the world.
In spite of this enormous success, John never let it go to his head. He and Virginia shared a passion for crosswords. He used to joke with her. “You know I’ll really know I’m famous when I turn up as an answer in a crossword”. A few months ago he called Virginia. “You’ll never guess, I’m doing the crossword in the San Francisco Chronicle and I’m in a clue!”
But John wasn’t only interested in hormones. He wrote a much wider book on health called Optimal Health Guidelines. Some of you may have heard him tell the story about the men in his family, all of whom died from heart attacks before the age of 60?
John knew then that his genes were against him. This was the impetus that started him researching all the knowledge that he eventually put into his Optimal Health Guidelines. John was 74 when he died. He certainly outdid those genes.
John actually wondered speaking to Virginia on the phone, just a few days before he died, if he’d been given an extra decade or two so that he could bring his message about progesterone to the world.
When John died he had accomplished his mission. In the last year his position on HRT had finally been vindicated. Now we know that HRT increases the risk of both breast cancer and heart disease.
The day before he died John had finished his corrections on a revised version of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You about Menopause.
Virginia tells me that John was actually never satisfied with his books, always wishing he’d made changes. But as he finished proofing this book he told her ‘This is a damn fine book!’ He was finally pleased with what he had produced.
John lived life to the full, full of gusto, right the up to the end. The night he died John and Pat, his wife, had people over for dinner, including David Zava, the Saliva Testing expert, and another close friend, a breast cancer expert. John was apparently on excellent form, laughing and joking, slapping people on the back and telling stories in the way that only he did. Anyone who has ever sat and listened to his stories will know what I mean. He died at 3am that morning from a heart attack.
At the time of his death John and Virginia were working on another book called ‘Hormone Balance made Simple’. Virginia is finishing that and it will be published.
Virginia is also offering a free email newsletter to update us all on the developments that result from John’s work. You can subscribe to it on www.johnleemd.com
I’d like to leave you with a picture of what John loved best when he wasn’t pursuing his beloved hormone. John and Pat lived on a farm in Sebastopol, California. He had a beautiful white farmhouse with a wraparound porch looking out over fields. He kept chickens – you could always hear the rooster calling when you spoke to him on the phone.
From the house he could see his red barn, his horses, a huge old fence overgrown with berries that his grandchildren would raid whenever they came to visit. What John loved most was to potter on the farm, just fixing this and that. Let us leave him there, relaxing on his porch, with our gratitude.
Thank you John.