Lives of the fellows

Ernest George Brewis

b.2 October 1908 d.13 February 1974
VRD(1960) MB BCh Durh(1932) MD(1934) MRCP(1934) DPH(1935) FRCP(1952)

Ernest George Brewis was the first member of his family to enter the profession of medicine and this he did with the activity and determination which characterised every aspect of his life.

He was a Northcountryman from start to finish, his father being an engineer and Colonel in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and his mother the daughter of a master builder at the time of Newcastle’s greatest expansion. At the Henry VIII Royal Grammar School in Newcastle he acquired a reputation as a scholar, boxer and footballer and, in one of the latter two pursuits, acquired a slight angulation of the nose which fitted - in later years - his short, broad, brisk, slightly pugnacious but always cheerful, figure. After school he moved to the medical school in Newcastle, then part of Durham University, and was a leading student of his year, graduating with honours in 1932, and within two years, after house appointments and work in the Department of Pathology, taking his Doctorate of Medicine with the award of Gold Medal. The same year he took the membership diploma of the College.

In his resident appointments he had worked with Professor G. Grey Turner and Professor W.E. Hume, but he was destined to be a physician and it was the latter who influenced him most and who became a life-long friend. During his student years he had also been resident at the City Hospital for Infectious Diseases, in those days a much coveted student appointment because of the wide practical experience which it brought - experience outside the scope of the teaching hospital. There he had also been influenced by Dr. J.A. (later Sir John) Charles (the MOH of the City, later Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health) who was keen to attract good men into Public Health.

In 1935, therefore, he took the DPH and entered the service of the Newcastle Health Committee as an Assistant Medical Officer of Health with interests in Child Welfare. This was to lead to friendship with the third great influence of his life, that of James (later Sir James) Spence, and, in 1936, to an appointment as assistant physician to the Babies’ Hospital in Newcastle, an almost unique small hospital in two old private houses which was the real birthplace of the University Department of Child Health, for it was there that ideas were sown and germinated to flower later when the medical and social climate had changed. Yet it is a matter of doubt how long this would have contained or satisfied the spirit of George Brewis. However, other events determined his immediate future and also, by the passage of time, probably the pattern of the rest of his life. For, since student days, he had been a member of the Tyne Division of the RNVR and he was mobilised before the outbreak of war in 1939 to serve until 1946 in the East India Station in Trincomalee, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), in naval hospitals at Chatham and in Scotland, on a hospital ship attached to the Home Fleet during the Normandy landings and finally in another ship with the Pacific Fleet in 1945/46. After the war, he continued in the Tyne Division of the RNVR, retiring in 1960 with the rank of Surgeon Captain and the Volunteer Reserve Decoration.

Returning to Newcastle in 1946, he re-entered the Health Department as Physician to the City Hospital where he had previously been resident student, and was appointed Associate Physician to the Children’s Department at the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Babies’ Hospital, where he took a full part in clinical activities and soon established himself as an excellent and popular student teacher both in infectious diseases and in paediatrics.

These two fields of interest he carried into the National Health Service, being recognised in July 1948 as consultant in both, and long experience overseas was also recognised by appointment as regional adviser in infectious diseases. His clinical skill, compounded of a deep knowledge of medicine and great humanity, was widely appreciated by family doctors and by fellow consultants alike. In 1952 he was elected to the Fellowship of the College.

These wide clinical commitments, together with service on local and Department of Health committees, continuing interest in the medical branch of the RNVR, service with the local BMA, and as a member of the Central Consultants and Specialists Committee, were collectively the reason why, with all his clinical knowledge and experience, he wrote comparatively little. The few papers written between 1949 and 1962 were, with one exception, concerned with acute infections. The essence of his professional life was therefore that of the exercise of clinical skill as a consultant physician and paediatrician. In 1936 he married Jean Elizabeth, daughter of Dr. Archibald Livingstone; they had two sons, both of whom are physicians, and a daughter who is a paediatric nurse.

Brewis retired at 60 years of age to enjoy life in the rural Northumberland where he had so many friends, but he had only six years and the latter part of this time was marred by the progress of a disabling and distressing illness. Fortunately, before his death in 1974, he had the great satisfaction of knowing that his elder son, R.A.L. Brewis, a physician on the staff of the Royal Victoria Infirmary, had been elected to the Fellowship of the College.

FJW Miller

[Brit.med.J., 1975, 1, 632; Lancet, 1975, 1, 532]

(Volume VI, page 64)

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