Lives of the fellows

Reginald Edward Kelly

b.21 March 1917 d.5 September 1990
MRCS LRCP(1942) MB BS Lond(1946) MRCP(1947) MD(1948) FRCP(1959)

Reggie Kelly was an important figure in neurology in Britain in the late 20th century: a man of big stature, broad in his sympathies, and with a tremendous zest for life. He made his mark in practice, as a teacher, a dean, and a wise counsellor. He was born in London. His father, Morgan John Philip Kelly, was in the Diplomatic Corps. Reggie was educated at St Ignatius College, where he was captain of games and head boy. On qualification, he joined the RNVR as a surgeon lieutenant and served in Home Fleet destroyers, in particular escorting the Arctic convoys bound for Murmansk. Later, he was in combined operations with the Royal Marine assault group attached to the Eighth Army, and a surgical specialist during the Normandy invasion.

After the war, and a period as assistant pathologist at St Mary’s Hospital, he graduated in 1945 and gained his membership of the College two years later. His neurological training began in 1946 and was principally at the National Hospital, Queen Square, where he was successively registrar, house physician, RMO and senior registrar, and also included a six-month period at the Salpêtrière. His first consultant appointment came in 1950, to Queen Mary s Hospital for the East End. Other appointments followed: to the Prince of Wales Hospital, Mount Vernon Hospital, St Thomas’ and, in 1955, to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Maida Vale.

Kelly was first and foremost a clinician. The combination of sure clinical instincts, an excellent memory, sound judgement, an interest in people and a compassionate nature led to his being much sought after for his opinion both in private practice and in the NHS. The same qualities made him an outstanding teacher of undergraduate and postgraduate students. He was much in demand as a lecturer worldwide, often under the auspices of the British Council.

He married Peggy Stone in 1942 and they had two sons and two daughters. She often accompanied him on his travels and their warmth and geniality made them hugely popular wherever they went. He was an outstanding ambassador for British neurological medicine. These strengths were particularly important during his deanship of the Institute of Neurology, 1968-75, where he played a crucial role during the period of great expansion in the early 1970s.

Among his clinical interests, which included intraventricular tumours and the consequences of head injury, the problems of multiple sclerosis held first place. Though not an original clinical investigator himself, he had an instinct for identifying promising lines of research and, through his chairmanship of the medical research advisory committee of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, he made an important contribution to the international standing of British research on this condition. His counsels in the International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies were particularly valued as chairman of the international medical advisory board, 1981-89, and as a member of the executive committee. A library devoted to multiple sclerosis was set up by the Federation in his memory, at the headquarters of WHO in Geneva.

Reggie Kelly had tremendous energy and a great sense of fun. He had a natural instinct for battling with the water having rowed for St Mary’s as a medical student and he had a walk-on part in the film A Yank at Oxford - the St Mary’s VIII having had to withdraw from it for fear of losing their amateur status. He continued sailing even in retirement. He made a great impression on more timid delegates to the World Congress of Neurology in 1974 when he sailed his yacht to Amsterdam. Reggie had great qualities both as a leader and as a friend and made an invaluable contribution to the practice of neurology in Britain.

W I McDonald

[Brit.med.J., 1990,301,1328;The Independent, 10 Sept 1990; The Times, 17 Sept 1990; Inst.of Neurology Annual Report, 1989-1990 pp.9-10]

(Volume IX, page 289)

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