Lives of the fellows

Bernard George Adams

b.9 August 1931 d.4 December 2005
MB BS Lond(1956) MSc(1960) MRCP(1960) DPM(1963) FRCPsych(1973) FRCP(1973)

Bernard Adams was a consultant psychiatrist at University College Hospital London and co-director, with Desmond Lawrence, of the Friern unit for schizophrenia studies, funded by Sir Jules Thorne. He had a particular interest in the psychopharmacology of schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorders.

Bernard was born in Hampstead in 1931 and was educated in London. He was the son of Arthur Adams and Sally Morris, and was an only child. His father was a retail manager and his mother came from a family of engravers. Bernard began his medical studies at the Royal London Hospital, but was found to have pulmonary tuberculosis during his first year. He spent the next six months at a convalescent centre in Essex, from where he was sent to Switzerland, where he reported having an extremely good time, despite having concurrent treatment for a pneumothorax.

He returned to the Royal London, where he eventually became a junior registrar and gained his MRCP. He then spent two years as a junior lecturer in the pharmacology department at the London Hospital Medical School and gained an MSc. He then decided to pursue a career in psychiatry and trained at the Maudsley Hospital, took his MRCPsych and became senior registrar to the Maudsley and Hammersmith Hospitals. In 1967 he was appointed consultant in psychological medicine at University College Hospital, Friern Hospital and the Borough of Camden.

During the early years of his consultant appointment, Bernard was involved in the training of mental welfare officers for Camden Social Services, where he quickly gained a reputation for his ability to be supportive in very stressful circumstances. The latter half of the twentieth century saw many changes in the practice and administration of psychiatry. Bernard’s ability to steer a cheerful course through these rapids was a great encouragement and reassurance to those working with him who felt very much under his care.

His work as a psychiatrist held a robust reputation amongst his colleagues. In the 1960s, he published several papers on psychopharmacological issues in psychiatry. He and Desmond Lawrence, professor of pharmacology at UCH Medical School, were appointed co-directors of the Sir Jules Thorn unit for the study of schizophrenia at Friern Hospital, until its closure in the mid 1970s.

Bernard was an inspiration to his junior doctors, who would never see him treat a patient with anything less than the utmost humanity and empathy. He was a warm, good hearted and cheerful man, always interested in what others were doing and would listen to the groans and mumblings of his colleagues with a calm affability that was immensely reassuring. And the parties for mental health staff at his home were famous – he was the perfect convivial host, with an irreverent sense of fun.

In 1958, Bernard married Caryle Steen, who had also trained at the London Hospital and became a GP in north London. Theirs was a happy and enthusiastic marriage, sharing medical skills, as well as a rich cultural life. They had two sons, Peter and James, and a daughter Madeleine. Bernard was a keen musician, both as a player and listener and his son Peter became a professional musician, with Bernard and Caryle great supporters of his musical events. The family had a country house in the Dordogne, where Bernard spent many a happy time sampling the wine, chatting to the locals and generally pottering about.

Bernard had aortic stenosis and died suddenly from a cardiac event while giving a eulogy for friends at the Reform Club. He will be remembered as a gentle, humane and intelligent man who gave a fine example of how to teach and practice psychiatry to many generations of mental health practitioners.

David Sturgeon

(Volume XII, page web)

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