Lives of the fellows

Walter Fabisch

b.7 June 1904 d.12 December 1991
MD Berlin(1929) MD Palermo(1934) DTM&H Lond(1948) MRCP(1948) DPM(1950) FRCP(1969) FRCPsych(1971)

Walter Fabisch was one of those refugees from Germany who repaid their hosts with a fine mind and an industrious disposition. He was born in Breslau, where his father was in business, and was educated at the Johannes Gymnasium. He studied at the universities of Breslau, Munich, Zurich and Berlin. Between 1928 and 1931 he worked in the biochemistry department of the University Institute of Pathology in Berlin. It was there that he met Elisabeth (Lise) Ellinger, whose father was professor of pharmacology at Frankfurt. He also met Henry Fisher, who was later to have an influence on his career. His next post was at the Hospital for Sick Children, at the Universities of Greifswald and Hamburg; he was dismissed from this post in 1934 because he was a Jew. Two weeks later Lise, undeterred, married him and they emigrated to Palermo where he re-qualified and carried on medicine in general practice.

In 1939 the anti-Semitism of the Italian Government became too threatening and Fabisch and his wife moved to India, where they were interned as enemy aliens. In the internment camp Walter’s medical skills were called on by the internees, then by the staff, and then by the local population - including the Maharajah. This led to various transfers to other camps, to parole centres and a college. In 1943 he was commissioned in the RAMC, first as a general duty officer and subsequently as a graded physician. In 1946 he was promoted to medical specialist with the rank of major.

When he was offered demobilization in the UK he accepted and came to London with the intention of joining the Colonial Medical Service. One of his examiners for the diploma in tropical medicine advised him to take the membership examination of the College, which he did and passed at the first sitting. Henry Fisher, who was by then a senior assistant medical officer at Mapperley Hospital in Nottingham, persuaded him to give up the idea of tropical medicine and apply for a post which was vacant at the hospital.

Thus in January 1949 Walter Fabisch embarked on another career, attaining consultant psychiatrist status in 1954. One of his first achievements at Mapperley was to set up a clinical pathology service with Lise as his laboratory assistant. In the 1950s electroencephalography was proving to be a disappointment as a research tool in psychiatry but when Walter took over the hospital’s EEG department he developed it into a centre of research and a sub-regional service. He published papers on the effects of chlorpromazine and of bemegride on EEG patterns and made a valuable contribution to Craft’s 1965 ‘Report on psychopathic personality’ to the Home Office and Mental Research Fund. He also wrote the chapter ‘The electroencephalograph’ in Psychopathic disorders, ed M Craft, Oxford, Pergamon Press, 1966.

He was a member of the EEG Society and corresponded internationally, notably with Gastaut of Marseilles. His outpatient clinic for the psychiatric problems of epileptic patients was unique in the area and he was also consultant to a liaison clinic in the dermatology department of the General Hospital. When he retired from the NHS in 1972 he became part-time visiting physician at Nottingham Prison.

Walter’s standards were always high and he did not tolerate inefficiency. On holiday his photography was meticulous; not until the light and the angle and the subject were in conjunction would he make the exposure, even though it might involve a return visit to the scene. He was always well informed and in conversation his judgements were perceptive, humorous and self-deprecating. Outside medicine, Walter’s great interest was in music. He played the violin and the viola and made chamber music with his friends. He was also a member of the Bach Society and its orchestra, and of the Music Club.

In his later years he was on the council of the Nottingham Progressive Jewish Congregation and served on the Jewish Welfare Board. In time age and infirmity brought housekeeping and hospitality to an end and Walter and Lise moved into Miriam Kaplowitch House. When Lise died in 1989 Walter’s last years were already being clouded by Alzheimer’s disease. His friends were grateful for the care he received from Tom Arie and the staff of the Department of Health care of the elderly.

Walter was never idle for long, as his biography shows. Goethe’s motto ‘Ohne Hast, aber ohne Rast' could have been his.

W L Jones

(Volume IX, page 166)

<< Back to List