Lives of the fellows

Robert Fortescue Fox

b.24 December 1858 d.15 June 1940

Fortescue Fox was the seventh son of Joseph John Fox, a Stoke Newington surgeon who came of a Cornish Quaker family, and his wife Sarah Angell Allen. He qualified at the London Hospital in 1882 and was house physician to Sir Andrew Clark; but precarious health took him away from hospital work, first on a voyage to China as a ship’s surgeon, and then to a temporary post at Strath-peffer Spa in Ross-shire, where he remained to practise for twenty years. He returned to London finally in 1905, and in 1913, when he produced his Principles and Practice of Medical Hydrology, he was already accepted as an authority on British and foreign spas. During the 1914-1918 War his specialised practice vanished and he concentrated on the care of the disabled. He insisted on the value of various forms of baths and exercise for the restoration of injured limbs; he wrote Physical Remedies for Disabled Soldiers (1917), worked with Sir Robert Jones at the Military Orthopaedic Hospital, Shepherd’s Bush, and introduced the "whirlpool " arm and leg baths. A pioneer of what was later called rehabilitation, he was impressed by the need for concurrent treatment and training of the disabled, and his ideas on this and on resettlement were partially realised in the Enham Village Centre, of which he was for a year the first medical director.

As a physician, he was interested in people even more than in diseases, and his approach to each case was correspondingly personal, including a search for environmental or social factors in the illness. A therapist by nature, he made full use of drugs, but was unfashionable in his faith in "airs, waters, and places" as remedial agents. He urged that clinics should be set up in cities to reduce rheumatic disabilities, and the British Red Cross Clinic for Rheumatism was largely the result of his leadership and planning. But he was also eager that spas and coastal resorts should be used more widely, with financial aid from public funds for poorer patients, and he helped to found the British Health Resorts Association. To promote the scientific study of climates and waters, he formed the International Society of Medical Hydrology and edited its Archives for several years from 1922. When, in his old age, some of his foreign associates became political refugees, he spared no pains to help them. Fox remained active in practice and in persuasive writing until the last days of a life of ardent and often far-sighted effort. Sensitive and latterly frail, he felt acutely the rebuffs that come to innovators. But he had many compensating interests — in poetry, archaeology, travel, painting and gardening. He married the daughter of Rev. W. S. McDougall and had three daughters and three sons—one of them T. F. Fox, F.R.C.P. He was a brother of R. Hingston Fox, F.R.C.P. He died in London.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1940; B.M.J., 1940; Information supplied by Dr. T. F. Fox]

(Volume IV, page 599)

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