Lives of the fellows

William Drew Nicol

b.20 August 1894 d.25 April 1970
MRCS LRCP(1917) DPM(1923) MB BS Lond(1927) MRCP(1932) FRCP(1938)

William Nicol’s original ambition was to go to university and read classics. His father, James Carpenter Nicol, was a classicist and headmaster of Portsmouth Grammar School, where William received his early education. However, on being told at the age of eighteen that he would never get a first, although he had a chance of getting a good second, the prospect of a career in the Church or an assistant mastership did not appeal. He says that he chose medicine ‘rather reluctantly’ but he never regretted his choice.

After qualifying at St Bartholomew’s Hospital with the Conjoint in 1917 he immediately joined the Navy as temporary surgeon-lieutenant and saw active service for the remainder of the first-world-war. On his return to civilian life he graduated MB BS and decided to adopt psychiatry as his specialty. At this time there was very limited scope for the practice of psychiatry in a mental hospital and he entered the LLC Mental Hospital Service, where he achieved rapid promotion. In 1931 he became medical superintendent of Horton Hospital, Epsom, a post which he held until 1951. He obtained the DPM in 1923, the MRCP in 1932, and was elected a Fellow in 1938. It was as director of the clinical malaria unit at Horton that he undertook his chief professional work, the study of neurosyphilis, on which he wrote numerous papers and became recognized as a leading authority. His researches, both clinical and serological, in neurosyphilis were carried out in cooperation with Professor Golla of the Maudsley and Colonel Harrison of the Ministry of Health. In 1943 he was appointed physician in psychological medicine to the Royal Free Hospital, a position he held until 1957 when he was appointed a Lord Chancellor’s Visitor, an appointment for which he was ideally suited by temperament, character and ability. He set up the first outpatient department for psychiatry at the Royal Free, and also a small unit for inpatients. He was an Examiner in Psychological Medicine to the Conjoint Board, London and Manchester Universities, 1947-1953, and president of the section of psychiatry of the Royal Society of Medicine, 1955-56. He was also examiner in the DPM.

In 1918 he married Norah Stella, daughter of F.G.Mayberry, a physician practising in Ireland, and they had two children. His hobby was reading and collecting books, and he loved to visit art galleries and old churches. As he himself remarked, his appointment as a Lord Chancellor’s Visitor gave him ample opportunity to indulge the latter, as he had to travel all over England and Wales. He had a lively sense of humour, with a merry Rabelaisian slant which delighted his many friends. His judgement of people was shrewd, his approach to life direct, sincere and warmly human. He showed a penetrating insight into, and understanding of the lives and difficulties of his fellow human beings.

Bill Nicol was always very welcome in every sphere in which he moved. His early upbringing imbued him with a love of the classics, but he also read widely in other fields. He was a delightful companion and a loyal friend. He was a keen and formidable croquet player.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
V Luniewska

[, 1970, 2, 369]

(Volume VI, page 359)

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