Lives of the fellows

Gerald O'Gorman

b.22 October 1916 d.2 March 1998
MRCS LRCP(1940) DPM(1946) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1968) FRCPsych(1971)

Gerald O’Gorman was a consultant psychiatrist at Borocourt Hospital, Reading, where he developed services for people with mental retardation. He was later appointed medical superintendent of the Warneford Hospital, Oxford.

He came from a theatrical family; his father was a music hall comedian, actor and entrepreneur, his mother was a singer, dance and one-time principal boy, and two of his older half-brothers formed a well-known comedy duo. He acted as their ‘stooge’ in shows during his boyhood. He was educated by the Jesuits at Wimbledon College. He was himself a talented actor, but he bucked the family tradition by studying medicine at Guy’s Hospital. Alongside his medical studies he represented Guy’s at cricket, rugby and athletics.

After qualifying he worked briefly at Broadmoor Hospital, before joining the RAMC and serving in the Second World War in a variety of locations, including the Middle East, North Africa, Sicily and Italy, acquiring experience of acute psychiatry. He returned to work at Broadmoor after the war. Partly spurred on by not having graduated from University, he gained his MRCP, as well as the diploma in psychological medicine, and throughout his working life he prided himself on being a sound medical clinician. In his psychiatric training he particularly valued the teaching he received from John Knox at Broadmoor and from Emanuel Miller [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.339], child psychiatrist at St George’s.

After working at Botley’s Park and Leybourne Grange Hospitals, he was appointed medical superintendent at Borocourt Hospital, Reading, in 1950. Legend says that when he arrived at the hospital he drove an open sports car, and he was so exuberant that he never opened the door, leaping in and out over the side. This zest and vigour characterized the whole of his professional life. He was unashamedly paternalistic in his approach to the care of the mentally handicapped, championing the patients and their need for occupation and self-respect. He was also a champion of nurses, admiring their discipline and devotion. Behind his desk he had a banner which read ‘An unoccupied patient is a medical and nursing failure’.

He was a wonderful ‘ideas man’ and his enthusiasm inspired other professionals to translate ideas into practical realities. He pioneered many changes in the hospital - developing a large occupational therapy department, a factory where the patients could work and earn money, and opening a range of outlying hostels and a school. He also organized sports teams and dances, and relaxed hospital rules, giving patients the freedom to go to local shops and to take jobs in the community.

He had the foresight to gather together a group of (eventually) six consultant colleagues at Borocourt, making a nucleus of doctors who bounced ideas off each other and enjoyed stimulating argument and friendship. He established that each consultant had combined mental handicap and child psychiatry responsibilities, which removed the sense of isolation previously felt in mental handicap services, and led to interesting training appointments for junior doctors. In collaboration with Cyril Williams he negotiated for Berkshire to be one of the first areas to have child and adolescent psychiatrists in child guidance clinics employed by the NHS, rather than by the local authority.

He was fascinated by the range of physical and mental health problems that presented in a population of people with mental retardation and he developed a life-long interest in autistic children. He set up Smith Hospital, Henley-on-Thames, where some of the early thinking and research into autism took place. He valued his collaboration with Mildred Creak [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.105] at Great Ormond Street, and was part of the working group that evolved the ‘nine points’ - one of the first attempts at setting criteria for the diagnosis of autism. Among his publications were articles on psychosis and a book on autism (The nature of childhood autism, London, Butterworths, 1967).

He was part of a generation of psychiatrists who were competent in all areas of psychiatry - adult, child, forensic - and his influence was wide-ranging. He was active in medical politics, particularly as a member of the Oxford Regional Hospital Board, and was renowned for vigorous contributions to committee meetings and for making stands against the worst excesses of politics and bureaucracy. He was appointed to several working parties investigating the setting up of mental handicap facilities in England and Ireland. He spent two years as medical superintendent of the Warneford Hospital, Oxford, overseeing the planning of the professorial department, which opened in 1970. In 1972 he chaired a planning group on provision of services for mentally disordered offenders.

From 1975 to 1983 he was chairman of the Thames Valley Association for Mental Health. He had an on-going involvement in the Broadmoor Review Tribunals, and in advising schools for children with special needs. He was widely consulted by colleagues, about their own families as well as their patients. He had firm views about the importance of family, and of the role of fathers in providing a background of security and stability.

Gerry O’Gorman was a challenging, articulate man of great warmth and energy who invigorated colleagues, even when they disagreed with his views. He regarded youth and enthusiasm as much more valuable than age and experience. He liked to refer to his life-long love affair with medicine, and he worked until his late seventies. He refused to be restricted by his many physical problems, especially the blindness and the effects of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that were part of his last fifteen years.

He was a knowledgeable follower of horse-racing, a keen listener to opera and classical music, and wrote novels and played golf until his last few months. He married Joan Jennings in 1940. They had two sons and a daughter. His first wife died in 1970 and he later married Katie Friend, with whom he had two sons.

Katie Friend

[Brit.med.J., 1998,316,1833]

(Volume XI, page 433)

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