Lives of the fellows

Richard Thomas Charles Pratt

b.24 October 1917 d.20 March 1983
BA Oxon(1939) BM BCh(1943) MA(1944) MRCP(1944) DPM(1948) DM(1950) FRCP(1962) FRCPsych(1972)

Educated at Cheltenham College, Dick Pratt studied medicine at Trinity College, Oxford, where he gained a first in physiology, and at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School. After qualification he became house physician at the Middlesex Hospital to T Izod Bennet, who had earlier encouraged him to study medicine. From student days he had been interested in neurology and psychiatry, and following appointments with Barham Carter at Ashford and at Shenley Hospital he was appointed Comyns Berkeley research fellow, and later senior registrar in the neurology department at the Middlesex Hospital. In these posts he worked closely with Douglas McAlpine (q. v.) and Nigel Compston in studies on multiple sclerosis, undertaking a study of the genetic aspects of the disease which formed the basis of his DM thesis, and of his life-long interest in the genetic aspects of neurological and psychiatric disorders.

In 1952 Dick became senior registrar to Eliot Slater (q.v.) in the department of psychiatry at Queen Square. This appointment ideally suited his interests and talents, and he was greatly influenced by Eliot Slater, whom he held in great respect and affection. In 1953 he was awarded the Gaskell gold medal in psychiatry, and in the following year he was appointed consultant in psychological medicine to the National Hospitals for Nervous Diseases, working initially at Maida Vale, but after the retirement of Eliot Slater moving to Queen Square, where he was a greatly valued member of the staff until his retirement in 1982.

Throughout his career Dick was deeply interested in the interrelationships between psychiatry and organic neurology, and he was particularly interested in depression, becoming highly skilled in the management of patients with this condition. He was a strong advocate of the use of unilateral ECT as being important in minimizing the damaging effect of therapy. He related its effects to cerebral dominance and towards the end of his career became interested in its effects on cerebral evoked potentials. His continuing interest in genetics led to a series of important papers, and culminated in the publication, in 1967, of his monograph on The genetics of neurological disorders, an outstanding work which assembled in a masterly fashion a mass of important data not previously assimilated in a single work.

A skilled, concerned clinician of outstanding integrity, Dick’s help and advice were greatly sought after and valued by his colleagues and patients. Gentle and unassuming to a degree, but at the same time firm in his opinions, a true scholar and scientist, he was generous in his help with ideas and advice to his colleagues and above all his juniors, and his considerable contributions to psychiatry tended to be masked by his modesty and generosity in ascribing credit to his collaborators.

Never fond of large professional gatherings, and as a teacher at his best in seminars and smaller gatherings, Dick was not a zealous member of national and international gatherings and travelled little. In part this was due to his nature, and in part to the fact that he suffered since adolescence from diabetes. From student days onwards he concealed to a remarkable degree the impact of this condition on his life, and in his later years when he developed painful and disabling complications of the disease he hid his suffering and, with great courage, did not allow it to interfere with his work. With his wide range of interests and his keen mind, Dick was a delightful, gay, slightly whimsical companion, unstinting in his kindness and loyalty to his friends. Singularly happy in his marriage, he was devoted to his wife Eileen (née Holgate) and two sons, and delighted in the privacy of his home where, untroubled by any ambitions of office, he could enjoy his family life and indulge his interests in reading, in medical history, and in later life in sundials, which he studied with characteristic thoroughness.

P Mollison
LP Le Quesne

[Brit.med.J., 1983, 286, 1659; Lancet, 1983, 1, 999; Times, 9 Apr 1983]

(Volume VII, page 477)

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