Lives of the fellows

Walter Russell, Baron Brain of Eynsham Brain

b.23 October 1895 d.29 December 1966
MRCP(1924) MA DM Oxon(1925) FRCP(1931) PRCP (1950-57) Kt(1952) Baronet(1954) Baron(1962) BM BCh(1922) MRCP(1924) MA DM Oxon(1925) FRCP(1931) Hon FRCPI(1952) Hon FRCPE(1953) Hon FFR(1953) Hon FACP(1954) Hon FRFPS Glas(1954) Hon FRACP(1955) Hon FRCOG(1957) Hon FRCS(1958) FRS(1964)

Walter Russell Brain was the son of Walter John Brain, a Reading solicitor, and his wife Edith Alice Smith. Russell Brain was educated at Mill Hill and New College, Oxford. Originally destined by his father for the law, he read history for a year before joining the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in July 1915. Returning to Oxford to study medicine after the war, he was awarded the Theodore Williams’ Scholarship in Physiology, proceeding to the London Hospital in 1920 as Price Entrance Scholar. After qualification in 1922 his progress was rapid; he was elected to the staffs at Maida Vale, the London and Moorfields by 1930. He served Maida Vale and the London until retirement in 1960, and indeed thereafter until his final illness. Elected President of the College in 1950 he remained in office until 1957.

Brain’s contemporaries at the London marked him down as a man of outstanding ability and maturity. This ability was reflected in his clinical work and observations, his writings, scientific, literary and religious, and in his medico-political activities. He was an outstanding clinician who made important contributions to neurological knowledge, besides writing the standard British textbook on his subject. Additionally, he was a philosopher, poet, literary critic, consummate chairman, excellent speaker and wise adviser. These attributes brought him many honours and offices. He was knighted in 1952, created baronet in 1954, and elevated to the peerage in 1962. His professional presidencies included those of the Association of Physicians, Association of British Neurologists, Neurological Section of the Royal Society of Medicine and the International Society of Internal Medicine. He was honorary fellow of six Royal Colleges and of four foreign neurological societies, but he gained most pleasure from his honorary fellowship of New College and his election as a fellow of the Royal Society. He gave the Rede, Eddington and Linacre lectures at Cambridge, the Boyce lecture at Oxford, the Riddell lecture at Durham, and the Osier oration in Canada. He was Harveian Orator of this College in 1959. He held honorary doctorates of six British Universities.

In public service, Brain was a member of the Royal Commissions on Marriage and Divorce, the Law relating to Mental Illness, and Medical Services in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 1963 he was president of the British Association; he was also president of the Family Planning Association. His last major service was as chairman of the Standing Committee on Drug Addiction. Brain’s speeches in the House of Lords were models of their kind.

Russell Brain’s literary gifts were wide ranging, including his explorations of the lives and works of Swift, Smart and Johnson, a variety of essays, and a small corpus of verse. His philosophical addresses - he was particularly interested in speech and mind-body relationships - were characterised by remarkable lucidity. He was invited to give the Swarthmore Lecture in 1944, as a prominent member of The Society of Friends; this lecture manifests all his qualities, a liberal concern for his fellows, hatred of aggression and deep founded beliefs. On the professional side, he was editor of Brain for many years.

Lord Brain was a man of many talents and he deployed them to the full throughout his career. He combined the skills of the clinical scientist with those of the literary man, Christian philosopher and politician. He knew the extent of his abilities yet he was modest to a degree, wearing his learning and authority lightly. His contemporaries and close colleagues who knew him well could see behind the face of the public man and professional leader. He was essentially a private person, famed for his silences, in fact, he was engaged with his own thoughts at these times and not ignoring others, as they sometimes feared. At the foundations, derived from his radical, dissenting forebears, lay a deep sense of ultimate concern. His enduring influence must be sought in his example and his writings. Brain’s adoption of the Quaker faith strengthened his pacific nature, so that he avoided confict on any field; thus he failed to gain those fruits which only conflict can yield. Russell Brain married Stella Langdon Down, member of a well known medical family. They had two sons, of whom the younger is a Fellow of this college and professor of haematology at McMaster University in Canada, and one daughter.

RA Henson

[, 1967, 1, 56, 180, 308; Lancet, 1967, 1, 55; Times, 30 Dec 1966, 3 Jan 1967; Evening Standard, 29 Dec 1966; Evening News, 29 Dec 1966; Daily Telegraph, 30 Dec 1966; Daily Mail, 30 Dec 1966; Sun 30 Dec 1966; Birmingham Post, 30 Dec 1966; Huddersfield Examiner, 29 Dec 1966; Oxford Mail, 29 Dec 1966; Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 30 Dec 1966; Morning Telegraph Sheffield, 30 Dec 1966; Reading Mercury, 31 Dec 1966; Reading Evening Post, 29 Dec 1966; Surrey Comet, 31 Dec 1966; Yorkshire Post, 30 Dec 1966; Scotsman, 30 Dec 1966; Glasgow Herald, 30 Dec 1966; Irish Times, Dublin, 30 Dec 1966; Lichfield Mercury, Staffs, 6 Jan 1967; Nature, 14 Jan 1967; Western Daily Press, 30 Dec 1966; Thames Valley Times, 4 Jan 1967; Kent & Sussex Courier, 6 Jan 1967; Daily Telegraph, 3 Jan 1967; DNB]

(Volume VI, page 60)

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