John McTimoney

John McTimoney (1914 – 1980) A Personal Perspective

In celebration of John McTimoney’s 100th birthday this year, I would like to share some of my thoughts and memories of him.

I first met Mac as he was known in the summer of 1978, at my interview for the course he taught in chiropractic. He called it ‘pure chiropractic’, the method was only named after him following his death. As I arrived at his practice rooms in Banbury, I felt nervous and excited to meet the man I had heard so much about from my practitioner Stan Harding. A petite woman with a warm smile greeted me and introduced herself as Hilda, Mac’s wife. I was ushered into a spacious room with a large window. There was Mac, a stocky man with a full beard and he asked me to sit opposite him at the desk.

“Well, so why do you want to become a chiropractor?” He asked.

“It happened at the first chiropractic treatment I received from Stan for my severe back pain,” I said. “I remember how good and gentle the treatment felt, and when I got off the couch at the end of it my body felt light and at ease, as if my feet didn’t quite touch the ground. It was at that moment I said to Stan: ‘where can I learn this?’ And he was true to his word and gave me the details of your course when they came up.”

Mac just nodded and said: “The early chiropractors in America often ended up in prison for treating people. Would you be prepared to go to prison for chiropractic?” I was taken aback as I had not expected such a question. I said: “I don’t know, I hope it won’t come to that.”

A big grin spread over his face. “I am happy to offer you a place on my course starting in September. It will be a lot of hard work.” I was ecstatic, and thirty-six years later I am still happy about it as I continue to practise this amazing technique, and in awe of the healing that is possible through it.

I was on the second course Mac ever taught, and we would congregate at his practice rooms in Banbury where he and some of his other teachers held the tutorials. We were a mixed bunch of people, most of us mature students and grateful patients who wanted to pass on the benefits we had received ourselves.

The day usually started with a written exam, after having studied Mac’s notes on anatomy and physiology at home. Mac said he did not believe in time limits for exams, and that we could take as long as we needed. And of course because of this we all ended up finishing our exams in record time, and were rewarded with cups of tea, sandwiches and homemade cakes by Mrs McTimoney afterwards.

From early on we learnt to practise specific exercises to help us develop the skill and speed of the adjustments so vital to the success of this technique. Mac would observe every one of us closely, and call ‘stop’ at a certain point. He would say: “always stop on a good one, that’s what the brain will remember.” In order to increase the sensitivity in our fingertips, he would make us trace a long piece of hair through several pages of a book, usually Grey’s Anatomy. One day we put him to the test and found he could trace the hair through seventeen pages.

Mac had no appointment system at his practice; patients would just arrive and await their turn in the large waiting room. There would be friendly chats going on, people even brought sandwiches and thermos flasks with tea and no one seemed to mind the long wait. Such different times and unthinkable now. Mac would often work late into the night until the last person had been treated, even at times giving the last patient a lift home.

He was a great storyteller, often relating some inspiring story of recovery, especially about the horses he treated. He had adapted and developed the chiropractic adjustments for all kinds of animals too and was often called out to treat a horse. One day he had a phone call about a horse that had just been injured in a fall. As usual the waiting room was packed with human patients, so Mac told them the situation and asked what he should do. “Go and see to the horse, Mac, we’ll wait here for your return.” And so he did.

In the summer of 1980 Mac died from a heart attack aged only sixty-six. It was a great shock to all of us losing our teacher like this, and there were fears that we might never complete our training, quite apart from missing this wonderfully eccentric and dedicated man. Thankfully he had trained enough chiropractors during his first course, all of whom now had thriving practices and were able to replicate the astonishing results of this technique that were at one time just associated with Mac himself. Under Stan Harding’s guidance most of these practitioners got together and worked out a way for us to be taught by them, especially for our practical clinical training. This included Mac’s three children Pauline, Cynthia and Russell, and his former son-in-law Graham Wilkinson who had all studied with him. Thanks to the dedication of all these people, we managed to complete our training and qualified in December 1981.

I have sometimes wondered what might have led to John McTimoney’s early death. Like so many pioneers, he was totally committed to his chosen work, but he could not set any boundaries and worked himself into the ground. His family hardly ever saw him and his kids joined the course to spend a bit more time with their father. People, animals, anyone asking for help would be seen by Mac, he would never turn anyone away. People would travel for miles to see ‘Mac the Bones’ in Banbury. This desire to help people and animals was not fuelled by a big ego, but came from a genuine wish to relieve suffering and a deep conviction that this particular approach to chiropractic would play a major role in that. Sadly he neglected his own health needs, and the heart attack ended his life so prematurely.

I feel grateful that I met and studied with this extraordinary man, and for the many years of fulfilling work he has given me. Thank you Mac.