Lives of the fellows

Noel Gordon Harris

b.20 December 1897 d.20 October 1963
MB BS Lond(1925) DPM Lond(1928) MD Lond(1933) MRCS LRCP(1923) MRCP(1937) FRCP(1941)

Noel Harris was born at Worcester Park, Surrey, to Sir Charles Alexander Harris, K.C.M.G., C.B., C.V.O., who was to become Governor of Newfoundland in 1917, and his wife, née Constance Maria Shute, a Dame of the Grand Cross of Jerusalem. At St. Ronan’s School, Worthing, he showed every promise of becoming a fine athlete, but unfortunately a severe attack of rheumatic fever in 1913 cut short his education at Westminster School and left him with a damaged heart. After four years’ private tuition he went up to St. Thomas’s where he took extra courses on the fevers and on anaesthetics, and in his last year won a British Medical Association prize for a thesis on jaundice and obstruction of the gall bladder.

Influenced by his disability and his strong religious convictions he decided to devote himself to the treatment of the mentally ill, and so, after a clinical assistantship in the skin department of his parent hospital, took the post of assistant medical officer at Springfield Mental Hospital, where until 1935 he did valuable research on the treatment of general paralysis. In 1930 he was appointed chief assistant to the department of psychological medicine at St. Thomas’s, and in 1935 physician-in-charge of St. Luke’s Hospital, which brought him the post of consultant to the Middlesex Hospital. It was largely due to his efforts that the first London chair of psychiatry was established at the Middlesex with St. Luke’s as its in-patient psychiatric wing.

Harris’s wide knowledge and wise judgment at a time of much conflict between schools of thought on psychiatric treatment made him a valuable member of learned medical societies. Later his one pride was that he was the first man to be president of three, the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, the psychiatric section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and the mental health section of the Society of Medical Officers of Health. He was also examiner for the Conjoint Board, the Universities of London and Bristol, and the Gaskell gold medal, from 1938 a member of the Advisory Board of the Marriage Guidance Council, and for several years chairman of its Medical Committee.

Early in 1939 he was appointed the first civil consultant in psychological medicine to the Royal Navy, but in October felt compelled to resign because of his heavy commitments to the Emergency Medical Service and to St. Luke’s Hospital.

A man of the highest ideals in private life and in public service, with infinite charity and a deep understanding of the problems of the individual patient, Harris had a large circle of friends and no enemies. With characteristic modesty he made little of his research that led to the first use of curare in convulsive treatment.

In such spare time as he had for recreation he was a keen gardener, an expert fly-fisher, and a charming host who delighted his guests with his delicate taste in wines. In 1923 he married the Hon. Thelma Eirene Kitson, daughter of the Right Hon. Albert Ernest, second Baron Airedale. They had one son and three daughters.

Richard R trail

[Brit.med.J., 1963, 2, 1069 (p), 1138-9, 1273-4; Lancet, 1963, 2, 953-4 (p); Times, 23 Oct. 1963.]

(Volume V, page 174)

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