Lives of the fellows

Duncan Gerard Leys

b.25 February 1897 d.6 September 1990
BM ChB Oxon(1922) MRCP(1923) DM(1931) FRCP(1942)

Duncan Leys’ father married twice and Duncan was the fourth child of his second wife. Duncan’s experiences as an Army officer in the first world war were such that they convinced him of the insanity of war; he lost one brother and another was gravely wounded. On demobilization, he studied medicine at Balliol College, Oxford, and St Thomas’ Hospital, and it was at this time that he joined the Independent Labour Party. After qualifying, he set up in private practice in South London and it was then that he met ana married his wife, Erica, a Cambridge graduate who was working as a lady almoner.

Shortly after his marriage he obtained a hospital appointment in Cardiff, subsequently moving to a post in Birmingham. In 1938 he was appointed consultant physician to the West Highlands Hospitals Board, where he could treat crofters free and receive payment from wealthier patients. Tragedy came with their second child, Rachel, who was profoundly brain damaged and this caused them both deep distress. Rachel died at the age of 13.

Duncan decided to study for the DCH and, believing strongly in the principles of the newly formed National Health Service, he applied successfully for the post of consultant paediatrician at Farnborough Hospital, Kent, in 1948. There he was largely responsible for building up a strong paediatric department. Against considerable opposition he set up the Phoenix Centre, one of the first centres in England for the assessment and care of handicapped children, especially those with cerebral palsy. He established a comprehensive medical library, once more without support from hospital management, and housed it in the paediatric department. He also believed strongly in the value of preventive child health and helped to found the West Kent Paediatric Society, whose aims are to integrate the postgraduate education of all doctors caring for children.

Duncan Leys was a versatile and erudite man. He had great charm and ruthless wit. Personal ambition was never a motive but he made his mark both in hospital and national politics. He was an active member and one-time chairman of the Chislehurst Labour Party, marched to Aldermaston, and was a founder member and later president of the Medical Association for the Prevention of War. He was an activist in Radical Alternatives to Prison.

He loved music, poetry, walking and sailing, and he and his wife were noted for their hospitality. After his retirement in 1962 he went, despite his avowed atheism, to Tanzania as a mission doctor for six months, at the request of Bishop Trevor Huddleston. He later worked part-time as an administrator in a research department at Guy’s Hospital. Unfortunately, he suffered a series of cerebral vascular accidents which left him with considerable loss of memory and increasing handicap. In the memory of his family, colleagues and friends, the pain of his declining years was mitigated by their recollection of his dynamic intellect and boundless energy in the pursuit of the ideals he held so dear during his prime.

P G Wallis

(Volume IX, page 313)

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