Lives of the fellows

Barry Winston Lewis

b.31 March 1941 d.2 June 2004
MB BS Lond(1964) DCH(1967) MRCP(1969) FRCP(1988) FRCPCH(1997)

After 11 years as an extremely busy NHS consultant paediatrician at Whipps Cross Hospital, London, Barry Lewis resigned to concentrate on his extensive private practice, which included the groundbreaking Wimpole Street paediatric cooperative and the establishment, with others, of the Portland Hospital. He was born in Romford, Essex, where his father, Alfred Lewis, had been a railwayman and then a master builder. He was particularly proud of his mother’s family links: Winifred Alice Doggett was one of a famous family of east London watermen. Indeed, not long before he died, he thought long and hard about whether to spend an outrageous amount of money to buy at auction the uniform and other paraphernalia known as ‘Doggett’s coat and badge’, awarded to the winner of what is said to be the oldest continuing rowing race in the world, dating from 1715.

From Hornchurch Grammar School he attended University College Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1964. After working in general medical and infectious disease training posts, he settled on paediatrics as a career, working at Peterborough and Taunton. He obtained his diploma in child health in 1967 and passed the examination for his MRCP in 1969. He held senior registrar posts at the London Hospital and Hospitals for Sick Children (Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Hackney) from 1970 to 1973. At what was then the relatively young age for consultant appointments, he joined Gerald McEnery at Whipps Cross, a large general hospital on the east London/Essex border. He was instrumental in setting up and supervising the hospital’s first neonatal unit and also started an extremely popular and demanding course for the MRCP. Given his mild manner and exceptional ability to listen and encourage consensus, it was not surprising that he eventually chaired the medical staff committee.

While still a senior registrar, he had travelled to a country in the Middle East to see an infant member of that particular country’s royal family, when his consultant was prevented from going by a previous engagement. His successful handling of a tricky medico-diplomatic event led to his building up a large following of patients from that part of the world. In 1984, he decided it was impossible to devote the time and resources needed by both his patient groups and he resigned his NHS post, concentrating on his practice from 17 Wimpole Street. This had expanded to include many indigenous patients, especially from around the geographical area of his NHS work. With others he set up a private paediatric cooperative, with a network of high quality practitioners who shared on-call commitments and designed an emergency rota to provide inclusive care for their patients, rather than working in competition with each other.

He soon concluded that London would benefit from a private maternity and paediatric in-patient hospital, governed in such a way as to ensure the highest possible clinical standards. After lengthy negotiations with potential backers and risking his own savings, helped by other interested clinicians, he was the driving force behind the founding of the London Children’s and Women’s Hospital (the Portland Hospital), of which he was the first medical director and where a plaque commemorates him.

He was the epitome of a bon viveur, seemingly as interested in the provenance of a fine wine as that of a rare syndrome, and delighting in both. It was always a pleasure to drop into Wimpole Street in the evening, after consultations had concluded, to share a product extracted from the practice cellar. In the obituary published in the British Medical Journal, his colleague and contemporary Jake Mackinnon [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] (who died a few months after Barry) told the story of the annual practice lunch, organised to take place on the island of Sark, beginning with breakfast at the Savoy Hotel, followed by a flight from Heathrow to Guernsey, a ferry to Sark and a horse and carriage to the restaurant. The festivities were such that they missed the return ferry. Unblinkingly, Barry hired a speedboat to take the tired and emotional party to Guernsey in time for the return flight.

As his career developed, so did his interest in horseflesh. It became increasingly difficult to prise him away from the racing papers over breakfast, and Cheltenham and Ascot became fixtures. With his second wife, Jo, he bought a farmhouse in Suffolk and for a time reduced his clinical work and kept racehorses at livery and even attempted a spot of breeding. His enthusiasm was unbounded (as probably was that of the bookmakers he patronised and whose children he treated), but the costs of keeping horses was so high that, even as ill-health progressed, he returned to near full-time practice.

He was infinitely kind and patient: scarcely an evening went uninterrupted by long telephone calls with anxious parents. His reassurance was always based on sound evidence, rather than simply the exhibition of a skilled bedside manner. Overhearing many of these calls, as his dinner grew cold, the writer – an NHS consultant paediatrician on a one in two (later one in three) rota – remained unsure as to which of us had drawn the shorter straw.

While still a medical student, Barry married a UCH nurse, Rosemary Petter. Sadly the marriage ended in divorce. He married another nurse, Jo Cunningham, in 1982. His first son, Hugo, underwent heroic cardiac surgery as a newborn. Despite the devoted attention of his parents, Hugo only lived for a few months. Many parents of his patients, including royalty, attended the funeral. Barry had three children – two sons, Tim and Edgar, and a daughter, Kate.

He had a prolonged debilitating illness, requiring numerous surgical interventions and the prescribing of ever more potent medications. He treated the numerous unpleasant side-effects with insouciance, attending the writer’s wedding with newly placed nephrostomy tubes in situ. As the British Medical Journal obituary concluded: “He was proud of Jo, who cared for him as one would expect of a loving wife and a skilled nurse, and of his enormously supportive children.”

Harvey Marcovitch

[Brit.med.J., 2005 330 968]

(Volume XII, page web)

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