Lives of the fellows

Aldwyn Brockway Stokes

b.23 February 1906 d.3 May 1978
CBE(1947) BA Oxon(1927) MRCS LRCP(1931) MRCP(1932) MA BM BCh(1934) DCH(1935) DPM(1936) FRCP(C)(1947) FRCP(1957)

Aldwyn Stokes was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, the son of Reginald George Briant Stokes, comptroller to a firm of solicitors in the town. His mother was Mary Price, daughter of William Price, a farmer from Penycaemawr, Monmouthshire. He attended Newport High School for Boys, and went up to Jesus College, Oxford, where he read physiology in the school of natural sciences, gaining an honours BA in 1927. He had won a state scholarship while at school, and was an exhibitioner in natural sciences and later a scholar in anatomy at Oxford in 1928. He did his clinical work at King’s College Hospital, London, during his tenure of a Burney Yeo scholarship. An early interest in psychiatry found him the recipient of the class prize in psychological medicine at King’s in 1929. He graduated in medicine in 1931 with an Oxford degree and took his London MRCP a year later. After internship he undertook residency training in paediatrics and internal medicine, before finally turning to psychiatry.

In 1935 he was appointed to a staff position at the Maudsley Hospital, London, where he was awarded a Rockefeller travelling fellowship in 1937. He had been intrigued by the work of Rolf Gjessing on metabolic psychiatry in Norway, and he elected to use his fellowship further to pursue this interest. He joined Gjessing at the Dikemark Mental Hospital near Oslo, and spent a fruitful year in studying his methods and contributing to his research. In 1938 he returned to London and was appointed assistant medical superintendent to the Maudsley Hospital. When war came in 1939 he joined that part of the Maudsley Hospital which had been evacuated to Mill Hill, and continued as medical superintendent until 1945 when the hospital returned to London. He continued as medical superintendent for the following two years and was decorated for his services to the EMS.

In 1947 he was invited to Canada and was appointed director of Toronto Psychiatric Hospital and professor and head of the department of psychiatry of the University of Toronto, succeeding CB Farrar. Despite the widely acclaimed scholarship of his predecessor, Stokes quickly established his own reputation as a teacher of psychiatry broadly based in biology and medicine, psychology and sociology. For him patients suffered from a breakdown in living. His students quickly came to recognize his excellence as a teacher, while his colleagues in Toronto appreciated his wise decisions and organizational ability. He actively promoted research enquiries in many fields.

In Toronto Psychiatric Hospital he invited Gjessing to spend a year as a visiting professor and encouraged him to establish a metabolic unit for the investigation of periodic catatonia. He also sponsored a team of social psychologists to investigate a community living in metropolitan Toronto; the report of this enquiry was published as a book entitled Crestwood Heights.

Toronto Psychiatric Hospital possessed only 72 beds and its small building was inadequate to support the facilities Stokes envisaged. For much of his tenure in Toronto he struggled to remedy this. He brought together influential people from university and business interests, and allying these with a provincial government he set in motion those forces which ultimately resulted in the 1966 opening of the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry (Psychiatry in Transition 1966—1967. Edited by Aldwyn B Stokes. Published by University of Toronto Press 1967). He became its first psychiatrist-in-chief prior to his retirement, and his portrait has hung in the auditorium of the Institute since then. Following his death the auditorium was named after him.

Aldwyn Stokes was the recipient of many honours. He served on national and international scientific committees and was instrumental in founding the Canadian Psychiatric Association, of which he became president in 1970. He was elected vice-president of the American Psychiatric Association in 1964, and in 1978 was made a life fellow and awarded its gold medal.

Stokes’s psychiatric interests ranged widely over all aspects of his specialty and were reflected in his lectures and publications. His early interest in metabolic psychiatry was evidenced in a number of studies on periodic catatonia which he undertook following his return from Norway. His contributions included those on geriatric psychiatry, forensic psychiatry and many others. In addition to his popular lectures, which he regularly gave to undergraduate medical students and residents in psychiatry, he was in great demand as a speaker to non-medical groups.

Aldwyn Stokes was a genial soul. He was ever ready to share his counsel and his scholarship with his students and his colleagues, whether these observations were culled from his professional experience or from his wide knowledge of the sports and the geography of his adopted country. He was an eclectic psychiatrist, always pursuing a rational interpretation of his specialty and preferring that aspect of it which was firmly rooted in medicine and the basic sciences. Each summer when he was not attending a convention he would take his annual vacation as a crew member of a craft sailing on Lake Superior. Here he delighted in running the ship’s galley. Later on as he grew older he would spend his vacation with his family at Burnegie Bay on Lake Joseph, and relax amidst the resin scented pine forests of Muskoka district.

In 1935 Stokes married a King’s nurse, Margaret Agnes FitzGerald, daughter of Major Leo FitzGerald, Indian Army. The couple had two sons and two daughters, but none followed him into medicine.

Aldwyn Stokes retired prematurely and was honoured with the title of professor emeritus. Ingravescent Parkinson’s disease brought about a progressive disability, which ultimately led to his death.

JW Lovett Doust

(Volume VII, page 555)

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