Lives of the fellows

James Bertrand Gordon-Russell

b.1 January 1920 d.7 September 1994
MB ChB Aberd(1943) MRCP(1948) DPM(1950) MRACP(1964) FRCPsych(1971) FRCP(1973) FRACP(1988)

James (known as ‘Jimmy’ to his friends) Gordon-Russell achieved distinction as a psychiatrist of versatility in England and Australia, working as he did in both general psychiatry and mental disability. He was born in Wingate, County Durham, where his father, William Alexander Gordon-Russell, was a local GP and his mother, Eva (née Armstrong), was the daughter of an industrialist. He was educated at Scott’s College, a preparatory school in West Hartlepool, before entering Aberdeen Grammar School. He studied medicine at Aberdeen University where he was an outstanding student, gaining honours in several subjects in his finals. After house appointments in Scotland and England, he went into general practice in County Durham and Derbyshire, finding time meanwhile to obtain his membership of the College. In 1950 he married Margaret (Peggy) O’Byrne, whose father was a principal school teacher. They subsequently had a son and two daughters.

Having decided that his professional future lay in psychiatry, he joined the staff of St James Hospital, Portsmouth, in 1949 where the superintendent at that time was the redoubtable Thomas Beaton [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.33]. He then slightly changed direction and was appointed as a senior registrar at St Ebba’s Hospital, Epsom, a hospital specializing in the care of the mentally disabled. Later he reverted to psychiatry as consultant psychiatrist and deputy medical superintendent at Tone Vale Hospital, Taunton, before being appointed in 1953 as physician superintendent to Roundway Hospital, Devizes, at the relatively tender age of 33 years. While at Roundway, Gordon-Russell was appointed a magistrate and served from 1958 to 1964. He also served on several important committees, including the Mental Health Committee of the South West Regional Hospital Board.

In 1964 his daughter Elspeth, a medical student, was killed in an accident. Following the tragedy Gordon-Russell emigrated to Australia and took up an appointment as deputy chairman of the Mental Health Authority for the State of Victoria, and adviser to the Minister of Health. He returned to England in 1967 and took up residence in the Bristol area. He worked as a generic psychiatrist and also employed his talents in mental disability, in both hospitals and in the community. His services were sought after outside the clinical field: he was elected president of the Bristol division of the BMA and regional postgraduate tutor and adviser to the University of Bristol. When the Royal College of Psychiatrists was established in 1971 his contribution to psychiatry was recognized by his election to the foundation fellowship. In 1987 he went back to Australia, where he filled various consultant posts in Victoria until his retirement in 1992, when he again returned to England.

Jimmy was an amiable, warm-hearted man, much loved by his patients and his staff wherever he worked. As a young man he had excelled at rugby and cricket. His retirement, to his cottage on the outskirts of Bristol, was blighted by the diagnosis, three months before his death, of carcinoma of the pancreas.

H R Rollin

[Brit.med.J., 1995,310,462]

(Volume X, page 172)

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