Lives of the fellows

Francis Anthony Whitlock

b.17 May 1916 d.21 May 1990
BA Cantab(1937) MRCS LRCP(1940) MB BChir Cantab(1941) MRCP(1947) MD Cantab(1948) DPH Eng(1957) MA Cantab(1964) FRANZCP(1970) FRCPsych(1970) FRCP(1973)

Tony Whitlock, as he was always known, was born in Rugby, the son of Francis John Whitlock an auctioneer and estate agent and his wife Jessie Margaret Gledhill, whose father Jonathan was in the same profession.

Tony was educated at Stowe School. His father would have preferred him to study law but he chose medicine, pursuing his undergraduate studies at Cambridge and St Thomas’ Hospital, London, where he qualified in 1940. After residencies at the London Chest Hospital, Nottingham General Hospital and Maymeads Emergency Hospital, he obtained a temporary commission in the Indian Medical Service which he held through the latter years of the second world war. For a number of years after the war he specialized in dermatology, being consultant dermatologist in Cornwall from 1947-52.

He became increasingly convinced that a large proportion of the problems with which he dealt had psychological origins and decided to train in psychiatry. This took considerable courage since, in order to obtain the right sort of post, he was determined to start at the bottom of the ladder becoming, successively, senior house officer, registrar, and then senior registrar at the Maudsley Hospital - where the late Sir Aubrey Lewis [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.284] quite evidently left an indelible impression.

In 1956 he married Jean Margaret Brown, the daughter of a mining engineer, and they had six sons and a daughter. He was consultant psychiatrist at Newcastle upon Tyne from 1958-64, where his interest in research was kindled by Sir Martin Roth. In 1964 he was appointed to the first chair of psychological medicine at the University of Queensland, Australia, where he was to remain until his retirement in 1981.

He arrived in Brisbane to find a university, a teaching hospital (then Brisbane General) and a medical fraternity eager - though a little apprehensive - for the psychiatric leadership that only the first incumbent of a new chair of psychological medicine could provide. Faced with the daunting task of implementing a teaching programme for undergraduates in a grossly overworked acute general hospital psychiatry department which doubled as a reception house and was dubbed as ‘a snakepit’ and ‘mediaeval’ by the national press, and beginning in two small rooms, Tony Whitlock steadily established a substantial department which, although eutectic, was firmly biologically based.

His first research work in Brisbane continued his earlier work in Newcastle on suicide and suicide attempts. He also researched a much neglected topic: attempted suicide in pregnancy. He became interested in the dangers of barbiturates, with special reference to their potential as agents in completed suicide, and his recognition of their wide abuse led to extensive educational programmes which had a significant impact in reducing the use of such drugs as bromides and barbiturates.

Tony’s work and suggestions on the packaging of psychotropic drugs led to pharmaceutical firms introducing blister packaging which resulted in a reduction in the extent and severity of the effects of impulsive overdosing. Traffic accidents, alcohol related illnesses, hysteria, epilepsy, the Ganser syndrome, forensic psychiatry, multiple sclerosis and psychophysiological aspects of skin diseases all came under research scrutiny. He wrote a number of books, often while on leave in the United Kingdom, and several of these had legal themes - suggesting that, if he had followed his father’s wishes, he could well have had considerable success as a lawyer.

Postgraduate teaching was instituted by the revival of the almost defunct DPM of the University of Queensland. Never one to establish empires purely for self-aggrandisement, Tony Whitlock supported the discontinuation of the DPM when the College examination was unequivocally established as the vocational standard for Australia and New Zealand. He was always ready to contribute to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists - founded in 1963, it received its Royal Charter in 1976. He was chairman of the Queensland branch in 1971, and also worked on position statements and other learned contributions to College affairs. He presented the Squibb academic address at the College’s annual congress in Adelaide in 1976. The value of his research work was recognized by his being the first recipient of the Organon senior research award of the College in 1978.

Whitlock also provided strong leadership on issues that affected the community interest, patients’ rights and care. He was unafraid to speak his mind when he believed it was warranted. Always reasoned and balanced, his opinions and judgement were widely respected by all sectors of the University, the community and the profession.

His last year in Queensland was marred by the alarming finding of a large vertical meningioma which, fortunately, was successfully removed. His recovery to his previous level of intellectual activity was a great delight for the psychiatric fraternity - not to mention his family. His retirement from the University of Queensland was occasioned by age regulations and was a matter of deep regret for his many colleagues. The ‘freezing’ of the University chair because of financial restraints hampered academic developments for many years thereafter.

Seventeen years spent in Brisbane did nothing to diminish the elegance and clarity of expression of his speech and his writing; two of his greatest gifts. Music was very important to him. He also possessed considerable practical skill in cabinet making which, though not widely known, would come as no surprise to those who were aware of the variety of his talents.

Always hardworking and dedicated to his discipline, Tony never lost his intellectual vigour and interest. His was a fundamental and seminal role in the establishment of psychiatry as a clinical and academic discipline in Queensland - one that encouraged a biopsychosocial approach with its roots firmly embedded in medicine. Queensland patients, doctors and health services owe him a great deal.

Sadly, his years of retirement back home in Cornwall were marred by several recurrences of the meningioma, necessitating a number of further craniotomies.

J Price

[Brit.med.J., 1990,301,870]

(Volume IX, page 578)

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