Lives of the fellows

Walter Montague Levitt

b.1900 d.25 October 1983
MB BCh Dubl(1923) DMRE Cantab(1924) MRCP(1931) MD NUI(1933) FRCP(1940) FFR(1940)

Walter Levitt, honorary consultant radiotherapist at St Bartholomew’s Hospital and barrister-at-law, was born at Rathmines, Co. Dublin, the eldest son of Lewis and Caroline Levitt. He was educated at Dublin High School and University College, Dublin, where he graduated in medicine in 1923. After serving in various resident hospital appointments he decided to devote himself to the newly emerging specialty of radiotherapy and obtained his DMRE (Cantab) in 1924.

After a period of postgraduate work at Frankfurt-on-Main, he joined NS Finzi at Bart’s as medical officer in charge of research into high voltage X-ray therapy, and lectured in X-ray therapy at the department of medical radiology in the University of Cambridge. At this time, radiotherapy was done mainly by radiologists occupied with diagnostic work, and radium therapy was the province of surgeons, gynaecologists and dermatologists. They combined to start radiotherapy in the 1930s, and the British Association of Radiologists was founded in 1934, followed by the Society of Radiotherapists in 1936. They were amalgamated as the Faculty of Radiologists in 1939.

Throughout the years prior to the outbreak of the second world war Levitt acquired great expertise in this rapidly developing specialty, and in 1939 he was appointed honorary physician in charge of radiotherapy at St George’s Hospital. The total frustration of the hospital’s building programme, owing to the war, led to the abandonment of projected new departments and he returned to Bart’s as part-time honorary radiotherapist, combining this with the directorship of radiotherapy at the London Clinic. At Bart’s he was closely associated with Sir Ronald Bodley Scott (q.v.) in the treatment of patients with leukaemia and reticulosarcoma. It was during this period that he made valuable contributions to the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease, which is now generally curable as the result of advances in radiotherapy and chemotherapy. He also contributed to the understanding and treatment of spontaneous keloid.

Together with Bodley Scott he contributed to the section on the reticuloses and reticulosarcoma in British Practice of Radiotherapy, 1965. He wrote many papers on radiotherapy during the ’30s, and published his own Handbook of Radiotherapy in 1952. He was a founding fellow of the Faculty of Radiologists and, subsequently, a founding fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists. He was a one-time vice-president, then president, of the section of radiology of the Royal Society of Medicine, and chairman of the therapeutics committee of the Faculty of Radiologists.

He served on the Ministry of Labour advisory panel in radiology, and was chairman of the research committee of the British Empire Cancer Campaign. In 1928 he was honorary secretary of the International Cancer Conference in London. At one time he was associate editor of the British Journal of Radiology, as well as honorary medical secretary of the British Institute of Radiology. He was a liveryman of the Society of Apothecaries.

In 1946 he was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn and withdrew from medicine, becoming especially interested in medico-legal matters on which he wrote several useful papers. He also published a Short Encyclopaedia of Medicine for Lawyers, 1966. But he soon decided that medicine was his first love and returned to radiotherapy in his honorary capacity at Bart’s, and to his private practice, before his final retirement.

After retirement he served with the Metropolitan Traffic Commissioners from 1967 -1973, and was deputy chairman for four years. He managed to keep busy with medico-legal interests up to the time of his death.

In 1929 he married Sonia Este Nirinsky, but they had no children. Shortly after her death in 1977 he married Violet Irene Hirschland. He was a charming and cultured man who was generous and considerate.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

[Times, 31 Oct 1983]

(Volume VII, page 335)

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