Lives of the fellows

Arthur William Mickle (Sir) Ellis

b.4 May 1883 d.20 May 1966
Kt(1953) OBE(1917) BA MD Toronto(1908) MRCP(1920) FRCP(1929) DM Oxon(1943)

Arthur Ellis was born in Toronto, Canada, where his father, William H.Ellis, was Professor of Chemistry in the University of Toronto. He was educated at Upper Canada College, and the University of Toronto, graduating BA MD in 1908. His early interest was in laboratory work and after some apprenticeship in the Sociological Laboratories in Toronto, he became demonstrator in pathology at the Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. From 1911 to 1914 he was assistant resident physician at the hospital of the Rockefeller Institute, New York.

On the outbreak of the 1914-18 war he came to England with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, rising to the rank of major, and his appointment as assistant adviser in pathology to the 4th Army brought him into contact with many physicians then serving in the forces, who were quick to recognize his great ability. Ellis was mentioned in despatches four times and was awarded the OBE. On demobilization he settled in London where in 1924 he became professor of medicine in London University, and Director of the Medical Unit at the London Hospital. He had taken the MRCP in 1920 and was elected a Fellow in 1929, delivering the Croonian Lecture on The natural history of Bright’s disease in 1941.

Ellis’s work as professor of medicine and director of the Medical Unit at the London were probably the most fruitful of his career. He made a name for himself in clinical research, chiefly by a profound and original reassessment of the range of kidney diseases known as nephritis, a complicated and rather obscure field on which he threw valuable light. His outstanding qualities were his humanity, intellectual honesty, and remarkable faculty for choosing the right men: Aitken, Brain, Christie, Clark-Kennedy, Horace Evans, William Evans, Hunter, Clifford Wilson, Witts, Riddoch - all of these, amongst others, passed through his unit on the way to high achievement, bringing the reputation of The London to a peak of clinical excellence which received worldwide recognition. One of Ellis’s interests at this time was his concern with the problems of population, which led to him becoming a member of the Royal Commission on Population, and in the 1930s he was largely responsible for founding a small scientific body known as the Birth Control Investigation Committee which later became one of the constituents of the Family Planning Association.

During the second world war he became an adviser in medicine to the Ministry of Health from 1941-42, and director of research in industrial medicine for the Medical Research Council from 1942-43. Ellis’s wide and eminent experience in the fields of medical practice, research and administration, led directly to his appointment by the Crown as regius professor of medicine in Oxford, in 1943, a post which he filled with great distinction until his retirement in 1948 at the age of 65, when he was appointed emeritus professor. The honorary LLD was conferred on him by the University of Toronto in 1944, and in 1951 he was awarded the Moxon medal by the College in recognition of his distinguished contribution to the knowledge of diseases of the kidney. He was knighted in 1953.

In 1922 he married Winifred, daughter of Sir William Foot Mitchell, and they had one son. His wife died in 1965 after many years of illness. His own health was by no means robust, especially towards the end of his tenure, but during the earlier years his standard of entertaining was memorable. He had an annual boat race party at his beautiful riverside house in Chiswick, where the guests were about 50% London Hospital (including all the consultant staff) and what seemed to be 50% diplomatic service. He was a great personal friend of A.P. Herbert, who also lived by the river. His chief hobby was salmon fishing in Iceland, and the fishing stories that came back were quite phenomenal.

Ellis was a man of complete integrity, great wisdom, a warm heart, quick, rich humour and unstinting helpfulness in any kind of trouble. He was tremendously loyal both in his professional and private life, and would protect the interests of his housemen against assaults from administrative and nursing staff under all conditions. Ellis never quite lost his Canadian accent nor its accompanying forthright manner of speech, but although strong in criticism he had a constructive mind which made him a valuable member of many scientific committees.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
V Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1966, 1, 1426; Lancet, 1966, 1, 1273; Times, 23 May 1966]

(Volume VI, page 162)

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