Lives of the fellows

Walter Symington Maclay

b.29 October 1901 d.27 April 1964
OBE(1943) CB(1955) MB BCh Cantab(1928) DTM&H Liverp(1928) MD Cantab(1934) MA Cantab(1934) DPM Eng(1935) Hon DSc McGill(1961) MRCS LRCP(1927) MRCP(1938) FRCP(1952)

Walter Symington Maclay, the second son of Lord Maclay and Martha (Strang) Maclay, was born in Glasgow. From Glasgow Academy he went to Fettes College, Edinburgh, and then to St. John’s College, Cambridge, and to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Following house appointments at Glasgow Royal Infirmary he attended the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and so prepared himself for service between 1928 and 1931 in native hospitals in Kenya, Nyasaland and South Africa. The next two years were spent on clinical work at Great Ormond Street and the Royal Chest Hospitals.

Now began his real life-interest in psychiatry; between 1933 and 1939 he was first a medical officer at the Maudsley Hospital, Denmark Hill, and then in charge of the psychiatric department of the West London Hospital, returning to the former in 1945 after spending the war years as chief physician to the Mill Hill Emergency Hospital. He was then invited to become a senior commissioner of the Board of Control.

Thereafter he devoted all his energies to the development of the psychiatric service of the Ministry of Health until 1960, when bad health forced his resignation, although he undertook the less strenuous duty of psychiatrist to the Wessex Regional Hospital Board.

Maclay’s excellent work lives in the Report of the Royal Commission on the law relating to mental illness and mental deficiency (1958), for it records everything for which he laboured: the modification of the conditions under which patients should be detained in mental hospitals, and the determination of the informal basis on which admission should be formulated for those whose detention was not a necessity for their own protection or in the interests of the public.

He was a good shot and an ardent fisherman. His pleasant manner and sense of humour brought him many friends at home and from Europe and North America, for he was president of the psychiatric section of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1952, and from 1960 an honorary member of the American Psychiatric Association.

In 1928 he married Dorothy, daughter of William Lennox, a Writer to the Signet. They had three sons and two daughters.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1964, 1, 1258 (p); Brit. J. Psychiat., 1965, 111, 205-06; Lancet, 1964, 1, 1051-2 (p); Times, 18 May 1964 (p).]

(Volume V, page 256)

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