Lives of the fellows

Louis Minski

b.6 June 1902 d.11 September 1986
MB BS Durh(1923) DPM(1926) MD(1927) MRCP(1929) FRCP(1943) FRCPsych(1972)

Louis Minski, one of the outstanding psychiatrists of his generation, died at Cheam, Surrey, aged 84. He was born in Sunderland, the son of Henry Minski, an estate agent, and his wife Anne Jacobs.

Minski was educated at St Kitts School and Argyle House School, Sunderland. He studied medicine at Durham University Medical School, where he had a distinguished undergraduate career, being awarded the Pears scholarship in arts, the Gibb scholarship in pathology and the Dickinson scholarship and gold medal in medicine, surgery and midwifery. He continued his high level of academic achievement as a postgraduate by winning the prestigious Gaskell prize and gold medal or the Royal Medico-Psychological Association in 1933 (which became the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1971, and of which Louis Minski was a foundation fellow).

He had decided shortly after qualifying to pursue a career in psychiatry and to this end he joined the staff of Bootham Park Hospital, York, where he served from 1923-29.In 1929 Minski was appointed second assistant medical officer at the Maudsley Hospital, London, where he came under the tutelage of Edward Mapother [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.266]. It was about this time that he became interested in mental symptoms associated with organic brain disease and,together with Erich Guttman, he undertook one of the first surveys of families suffering from Huntington’s chorea.

In 1938 he was appointed deputy medical superintendent at St Ebba’s Hospital, Epsom, a position he held only briefly. The second world war seemed inevitable and, in anticipation of the host of psychiatric casualties which were bound to arise, particularly in the London area, it was imperative that preparation for their reception and treatment should be made. Minski was called upon to set the wheels in motion. He took over the Sutton Training Centre and converted it to the Sutton Emergency Hospital (later to become Belmont Hospital) which functioned under the Emergency Medical Service (EMS). In 1939 Minski was appointed physician superintendent, a position he held until 1948.

The challenge that the running of this hospital presented was awesome but Minski rose to it in heroic fashion and, in the exercise of his duties, his capacity for organization, administration and improvisation was given full rein. Included among the casualties admitted to his hospital, both military and civilian, were evacuees from Dunkirk and survivors of the London ‘blitz’. Minski was assisted from a clinical standpoint by a team of high-flyers such as, for example, William Sargant (q.v.), Maxwell Jones, and Eliot Slater [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.541]. After the war Minski’s talents were widely acknowledged, as witness his appointment in 1946 to the consultant staff of St George’s, the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, and the Sutton and Cheam hospitals.

It was at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital that Minski was to produce some of his most important work. He pin-pointed the need for small, but highly staffed and home-like, residential units in order to diagnose the cause of non-communication in children; with the aid of the Regional Board and the Nuffield Provincial Hospital such a unit came into being. Subsequently it was discovered that the cause of non-communication was far more complex than had been imagined hitherto. Apart from subnormality of intelligence, other conditions such as autism, psychosis, brain damage and emotional disturbance could be implicated. In 1970, with Margaret J Shepperd as co-author, Minski published Non-communicating Children, New York, Appleton-Century-Croft, c.1970, which received loud acclaim and was translated into Spanish. He had seen the need for an authoritative textbook of psychiatry when he published his Practical Handbook of psychiatry for students and nurses, London, Heinemann, 1946, which was an immediate success and ran into six editions. In 1978 a seventh edition entitled Minski's handbook of psychiatry for students and nurses, by R G Priest and G Wolfson, London, Heinemann Medical, 1978, was published.

Minski was a keen and active sportsman until arthritis began to take its toll. In his day he played rugby and represented Yorkshire Gentlemen at cricket. He was a devoted family man and never really recovered from the death in 1973 of his wife Violet, whom he had married in 1932. He was survived by their only daughter, Margaret.

HR Rollin

[, 1986,293,1446-47; The Times, 6 Nov 1986]

(Volume VIII, page 343)

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