Lives of the fellows

Bruce Sutherland Ricketts

b.2 September 1940 d.6 February 1999
MRCS LRCP(1965) MB BChir Cantab(1966) MRCP(1970) MRCPsych(1973) FRCPsych(1988) FRCP(1989)

Bruce Ricketts is remembered by many as a lively, astute psychiatrist and physician, a man with diverse interests and talents. He bore his last cruel five-year illness with characteristic vigour. Those of us who knew him had a feeling of helplessness, but also marvel as we saw the determination, strength and love he and his family amassed to set about dealing with the situation.

His formative years were in the Malvern hills, Worcestershire, an area which always held a deep affection for him and played a part in his musical development. Another strong influence on him was the Quaker School he attended there. Anyone who knew Bruce can vouch for his strong sense of right and wrong, and the importance of each individual. His work for organisations such as St Dismas in Southampton and Samaritans was invaluable.

This sense of community was very evident within his day hospital work in Southampton at the Royal South Hants Hospital. There he led a multidisciplinary team, steering that precipitous path with energy, skill and humour. In the seventies he had moved from the Maudsley Hospital and St Mary's, Paddington, having obtained his MRCP and MRCPysch. Bruce was the first consultant I met in the department of psychiatry. I was a senior registrar new to the area. At our first encounter he lightly pointed out the advantages and shortcomings of the new hospital building - originally designed as wards for medical patients. He impishly moved his bookcase to show me where oxygen could still be piped in should our patients so require it. It was some 12 years later that he transferred to work in the first multidisciplinary locality mental health team, pioneering community work in Southamption in difficult circumstances. The way he approached such challenges was a hint of his later response to much more shattering events in his life.

The esteem in which he was held by colleagues was particularly notable. As a clinician he was very knowledgeable and meticulous, always ready to hear a different point of view, but quite clear and decisive. His patients received the very best treatment from him and some showed their appreciation by attending his memorial service. Tributes to him referred to the gold standard of care he provided. He became a Fellow of both the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of Physicians. In the mid eighties, he was appointed clinical director at the Southampton department of psychiatry, a job which he carried out with zeal and efficiency, his humanity and compassion always close by. Such integration of qualities was typical of Bruce. Whether in professional or personal events, Bruce's position was a steadfast one. He was appointed regional adviser of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, another indication of his standing with colleagues.

The other aspects of Bruce were crucial to his professional life. He shared with his wife Fi and whole family a great love of music. He attended King's College, Cambridge, and his experiences there fostered this interest and left a lasting impression. He played the oboe. When his diagnosis of normal pressure hydrocephalus due to a brain stem tumour barred him from the pleasure of his wind instrument, he pursued singing and joined a choir.

Bruce's generousity was well known. He and Fi would open their house to friends and colleagues on numerous occasions. Farewell events were frequently hosted at their home, always with great hospitality and unreserved welcome.

When Bruce became ill, the onset was insidious, yet he kept a grip on clinical work in spite of his worries over his health. With the impact of the diagnosis, Bruce spoke realistically and constructively. Friends often felt they were being helped through by Brcue and Fi, rather than the reverse. He wrote an article in which he described his experiences as a patient on a neurosurgical unit. This explained something of what is must be like for countless patients - another gently told, humorous lesson from Bruce for those of us who are at risk of forgetting.

Carry Selley

(Volume XI, page 480)

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