Lives of the fellows

Philip John Russell Nichols

b.23 September 1923 d.8 September 1979
BA Oxon(1945) BM BCh(1947) MA(1949) D Phys M Lond(1952) DM(1959) MRCP(1969) FRCP(1974)

The death of Philip Nichols at the Radcliffe Infirmary at the age of 55 after a brief illness came as a shock to a host of friends all over the world. He personified medical rehabilitation in this country. He was chairman of the Royal College of Physicians committee on rehabilitation, former president of the section of rheumatology and rehabilitation of the Royal Society of Medicine, adviser in rehabilitation to the chief medical officer of the Department of Health and Social Security, and president of the newly formed Society for Research in Rehabilitation. He had served the Council of the British Association for Rheumatology and Rehabilitation for ten years, held the office of honorary secretary between 1966 and 1970, and was consulted before any important step in rehabilitation was taken. He served on the National Advisory Council on Employment of Disabled People, the Advisory Panel to the Disabled Living Foundation, and the Council of the Institute for Consumer Ergonomics of Loughborough University.

The quality that stood out throughout his life was his essential goodness. His enthusiasm, commitment, leadership and ability to evoke the best from others made him popular throughout his life. He had gentle humour, generosity and time for everyone. In 1958 he married Dorothy Eileen, daughter of Robert Nelson Hickson, a naval officer, and they had four daughters and a son. He was devoted to his family and friends.

He excelled as a physician, giving unstinted attention and compassion to his patients, encouragement, opportunity and responsibility to the professions supplementary to medicine, and scrupulous guidance to his students in helping them to choose their programmes of study.

Philip was born in London. His father was Philip Edbrooke Nichols, a surveyor, and his mother, formerly Dorothy Lizzy Russell, was daughter of a printer. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, won an entrance exhibition to Exeter College, Oxford, and the prize for medicine at the Radcliffe Infirmary. At Oxford he played regularly for the Greyhounds and came close to winning a Blue. With panache he wrote and produced the Tynchewyke pantomimes at the Radcliffe. He graduated in medicine in 1947. After six months as house physician at the Radcliffe Infirmary he entered the Royal Air Force, in which he served with distinction for sixteen years and developed his interest in rehabilitation. He gained the Diploma for Physical Medicine in 1952 and wrote an excellent thesis for his DM in 1959. He pioneered the use of technical workshops for the rehabilitation of skilled tradesmen, encouraged the new profession of remedial gymnasts, was first senior medical officer at the RAF rehabilitation centre at Headley Court, was at the front of a service that had an outstanding reputation for the quality of rehabilitation, and displayed then, as he did later, his exceptional administrative ability; he thought clearly, perceived what was relevant, mustered the arguments and, having the facility to extract what was pertinent, he became a natural chairman. On his retirement he held the rank of wing-commander.

In 1964 he was appointed director of Mary Marlborough Lodge, the disabled living research unit at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre at Oxford, from its incorporation into the National Health Service. Under his leadership the ‘Lodge’ steadily developed not only as a conventional rehabilitation unit but also as a national functional assessment centre for the severely disabled, from whatever cause; to this was added an association with the Regional Artificial Limb and Appliance Centre in 1968, and the Rehabilitation Research Unit where techniques were developed to assess and measure disability and evaluate different methods of treatment. Gardening was encouraged for the assessment, treatment and recreation of the disabled. Nichols and his staff were responsible for compiling the series of books Equipment for the Disabled. In 1973 the ‘Lodge’ was designated by the DHSS a National Rehabilitation Demonstration Centre, and to this came over a thousand visitors a year. He held editorial positions with several journals, most importantly as first editor of the International Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine. From his pen flowed one hundred excellent papers, beginning with ‘Those who are constitutionally fat die more quickly than those who are thin’ and four books: Rehabilitation of the Severely Disabled; Management; Living with a Handicap, and Rehabilitation Medicine. He was responsible for an extensive programme of courses for the remedial professions. As a teacher he was much in demand at home and overseas, and went frequently to Europe and was visiting lecturer in America, South Africa and Australia. He gave the Richard Kovac lecture to the Royal Society of Medicine in 1971 on ‘Some Problems in Rehabilitation of the Severely Disabled’.

Philip Nichols influenced the course of British medicine in this century, and his loss to the developing specialty of rehabilitation medicine was incalculable. The service of thanksgiving for his life was held at St Clement Danes, Central Church of the Royal Air Force.

GM Cochrane

[, 1979, 2, 944; Lancet, 1979, 2, 806; Ann. rheum. Dis., 1980, 39(3), 298-300]

(Volume VII, page 431)

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