Lives of the fellows

Thomas Percy Rees

b.16 March 1899 d.2 June 1963
OBE(1949) BSc Wales(1921) DPM Lond(1924) MB Wales(1925) MD Wales(1932) MRCS LRCP(1923) MRCP(1926) FRCP(1956)

T. P. Rees was born in Carmarthenshire, the son of Thomas Rees, a farmer, and Eliza, daughter of William Davies, also a farmer. His medical education was in the Welsh National School of Medicine and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, but before then he served in the Machine Gun Corps in World War I. His first clinical experience in psychiatry was gained at Napsbury Mental Hospital where he was medical officer until 1927, when he was appointed deputy medical superintendent of Croydon Mental Hospital, later re-named Warlingham Park Hospital. When he became superintendent in 1935 he ordered that the gates of the Hospital were to be left unlocked, and thus embarked on a course of reform and progressive administration in the treatment of mental disease for which he was to become widely famed. During the next twenty years he abolished nearly all restraint and isolation of patients; the doors of all the wards in his hospital were unlocked.

He was consultant psychiatrist to Croydon General Hospital and the Croydon Child Guidance Clinic. He also became adviser in mental health to the World Health Organization. His reputation as an authority on the welfare of psychiatric patients was acknowledged by his membership of the Feversham Committee on Mental Health Services (1939), and of the Royal Commission on Mental Health, which sat from 1954 to 1957 and led to the Mental Health Act of 1959. He was awarded the O.B.E, in 1949, and in local recognition of his work he was granted the freedom of the county borough of Croydon in 1956. He was president of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, 1956-7; his presidential address, ‘Back to moral treatment’, is the fullest published statement of his professional point of view (J. ment. Sci.,1957,103,303-13(p)).

He wrote very little, but an article on the indications for pre-frontal leucotomy (ibid., 1943, 89, 161-4) is a reminder that his clinical interest extended beyond the reorganisation of the mental hospital. He retired from Warlingham Park in 1956 and devoted part of his time to private practice in London. He was not a deeply knowledgeable clinician, and never seemed to be entirely at home amongst the numerous new remedies for mental disorder which had come into use towards the end of his career; but he possessed a considerable flair for making warm and effective contact with all manner of patients, especially those with chronic psychotic illness, and this brought him great satisfaction.

There were many other calls on his time. He was consultant psychiatrist to the National Association for Mental Health and served on the South-West Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board. His advice and assistance were widely sought by both professional and lay organisations. The reason for this was readily apparent: as a man of fine appearance and unusual personal charm, he made an immediate impact. A witty, fluent speaker, he had a warm, informal, straightforward manner and a keen eye for essentials. He lectured widely in this country and abroad, and was especially skilful in the exposition of psychiatric problems to laymen. A natural leader, he inspired the affection as well as the respect of his staff. It was this, together with great courage and determination,that enabled him to carry through his liberal measures in the face of much scepticism and some hostility. Yet he did not always endear himself to his colleagues; he could be dogmatic and obstinate, give an impression of arrogance and seem to be too interested in his own ideas to listen carefully to another point of view.

In 1932 he married Adelaide Isobel, daughter of Frederick James Stephens, an accountant. They had one daughter and three sons.

Richard R Trail

[Amer. J. Psychiat., 1963, 120, 311-12; Brit.med.J., 1936, 1, 1615 (p); Lancet, 1963, 1, 1331-2 (p); Times, 14 June 1963 (p).]

(Volume V, page 344)

<< Back to List