Lives of the fellows

Reginald George Bickford

b.20 Jan 1913 d.26 June 1998
BA Cantab(1933) MB BChir(1936) MRCP(1940) FRCP(1971)

Reginald George Bickford was a professor in the department of neurosciences and head of the EEG laboratory at the University of California, San Diego. He was the son of George Bickford, a stockbreeder and native of Brewood, England. His family had lived and farmed in the area for over 400 years. As a child 'Reg', as he was known, managed to find time to satisfy his interest in science, despite the farm chores. He went on to Cambridge, graduating with a BA in 1933 and with his MB BChir in 1935. He then worked at University College Hospital, first as house physician to T R Elliot, then as house surgeon to Wilfred Trotter.

As a neuro-psychiatrist during the Second World War he served in the RAF with the rank of squadron leader, researching into anoxia and the head injuries of flight crews. This stimulated his lifelong interest in electrical brain activity.

He accepted the post of research associate at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. He was later appointed head of the department of electro-encephalography and professor of physiology at the Mayo graduate school of medicine, University of Minnesota. In 1969 he joined the University of California, San Diego.

During his career Reg was famous for his innovative approach to research. At the Mayo he investigated the use of EEG for automatic control of general anaesthesia, work which was published with an anaesthetic colleague. Later, his research included an investigation into different forms of computer analysis and the possible transmission of EEG data. He was responsible for the first transatlantic transmission. He had a particular interest in epilepsy, and was involved in depth electrode work and epilepsy surgery in Rochester. He also worked on the description of various unusual types of reflex epilepsy, including reading and musicogenic types.

Reg was enthusiastic and energetic, and stimulated by anything new and different in research. He liked to see the results of his collaborators quickly, particularly if their findings were unexpected and indeed the reverse of what he himself had predicted. His style was infectious. This attracted to his teaching sessions people with a wide range of interests. He encouraged and supported those who joined his department, not just from the United States but world-wide.

He received honours from the American EEG Society (now the Clinical Neurophysiology Society) and received the Society’s most prestigious honour, the Herbert H Jasper award, in 1992. He was also chairman of the American Electro-encephalographic Society Certification Board and a member of the American Delegation (Clinical Practice Committee, National Institutes of Health) to the Soviet Union on Problems of Higher Nervous Activity. Apart from his own books, he contributed to many important volumes and, in collaboration with others, wrote over 200 articles on neurophysiology, electro-encephalography and computer processing.

Reg loved his work and was active throughout his life, even after he retired in 1980. He was married to Joy, a practising psychiatrist, for more than fifty years and they had two sons. His later years were marred by ill health, particularly when deterioration of vision prevented him from driving. However, on the day of his death, which occurred suddenly, he was out in the car with his wife and they had a pleasant final day together. There was a memorable service of remembrance in his own house contributed to by friends, family and admirers.

D F Scott

(Volume XI, page 54)

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