Lives of the fellows

Derrick David Felix-Davies

b.30 June 1925 d.1 May 1988
MB BS Lond(1948) MD(1952) MRCP(1952) FRCP(1974) FLEX Lic USA 1976

Derrick Felix-Davies was born in High Wycombe of South Wales parentage. His mother, Mary Elizabeth Felix, was the daughter of a draper. His father, John Llewellyn Davies, was a dental surgeon who worked in the school dental service, which resulted in several changes of home for the family. They finally settled in Swansea where young Derrick attended the Grammar School. He gained a junior scholarship to St Bartholomew’s Hospital and graduated in 1948. After house officer posts at Bart’s, and at the Brompton Hospital, he held appointments as junior registrar in Swansea and Bart’s and as medical registrar and tutor at the Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith. In 1956 he was appointed senior registrar at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where he developed his special interest in rheumatology and published original work on rheumatoid factor. In 1960 he was appointed consultant physician to the East Birmingham Hospital, but before taking up this post he spent a year as a Sir Heni7 Wellcome travelling fellow at the Harvard University arthritis unit in Massachusetts General Hospital, and also a short spell in the New York State University medical school in Buffalo.

In January 1962 he embarked on his life’s work as the first full-time consultant physician in the new East Birmingham Hospital, which was being developed on the site of the Little Bromwich Fever Hospital. With boyish enthusiasm and boundless energy Derrick threw himself into the task of establishing a major department of medicine in a thousand-bedded hospital. Overriding numerous administrative and financial difficulties, not to mention the scepticism of some of his colleagues, he largely achieved his objectives within some 15 years. In addition to developing his primary interest in rheumatology, and its associated physiotherapy and rehabilitation, he was instrumental in setting up a cardiology department with ancillary services, as well as postgraduate and undergraduate teaching programmes; and he played a large part in creating one of the first postgraduate centres in the Midlands. In 1966 he extended his consultant commitments to Solihull Hospital where he was responsible for developing a coronary care unit and a new rheumatology clinic.

He was a tall man of handsome appearance, with charm and courtesy, but he was also inherently restless and a compulsive achiever, relishing every challenge in life whether it be intellectual or physical. Having been rejected as medically unfit for military service, he thereafter showed an abiding passion for outdoor sport. His prowess at dinghy sailing and skiing, tennis and squash conceded little to the passing years. There was nothing he enjoyed better than leading hospital parties on macho camping expeditions in Snowdonia. He acquired an old cottage in the Mumbles, and personally excavated a mountainside to build a bathroom. He was a connoisseur of art and antiques, with specialist knowledge of Victorian watercolours.

His professional interests were also extensive. Although not a prolific writer, he continued to pursue clinical research, particularly in the development of second-line drugs for arthritis. He was a member of the Heberden Society and the British Society of Immunology, and an honorary senior clinical lecturer in Birmingham University. He was an enthusiastic lecturer and teacher, usually preparing his lectures in the small hours. Widely acknowledged as an astute and caring clinician, he had a busy private practice and also acted as physician for the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. He was quick to perceive the usefulness of computers in medicine and set out to master the subject at a mature age. In his later years he also devoted much time to the problems of pain relief and terminal care in Solihull. In 1975-76 he spent a sabbatical year as clinical associate professor of medicine in Buffalo. During a number of subsequent visits to the United States he worked for short spells as a federal medical officer in the Sioux Indian reserves of South Dakota, and became much involved in their social problems.

Derrick was a shy and complex man, who did not readily show his deep emotions. His impulsiveness and eccentricity were exciting, but could sometimes be exasperating. He had few really close friends, but many admirers and no enemies, and he never spoke ill of anybody. For all his competitive drive he was never ambitious for power or influence.

As a family man he was very domesticated, with a flair for cooking. There were two sons by his first marriage to Joan Kellett. In 1970 he married Joan (Anne) Sly, only daughter of the vicar of Hampton-in-Arden, who was a modern language teacher. They lived in Solihull and had three daughters.

Derrick was well known for his fast driving; his end came swiftly in a road accident and deprived him of an old age which he probably would not have enjoyed.

RD Montgomery

[Brit.med.J., 1988,297,418; Times, 3 May 1988]

(Volume VIII, page 151)

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