Lives of the fellows

Arthur Roy Nicol

b.3 November 1938 d.27 November 2009
BSc Lond(1960) MB BS(1963) MRCP(1967) MPhil(1970) MRCPsych(1972) FRCPsych(1981) FRCP(1985) FRCPCH(1996)

Rory Nicol was introduced at his inaugural lecture as ‘the red rocket’, a nickname he earned by dint of his dynamism, capacity for hard work and red hair. Rory served with distinction as senior lecturer and consultant child psychiatrist at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and as the foundation professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Leicester.

Rory was born in Highgate, London, the son of Arthur Wyllie Nicol, an architect, and Phoebe Helen Desyllas, a designer. Towards the end of the war, the family moved to Barbados, giving Rory his first taste of a non-white, albeit colonial, society.

Back in post-war London, Rory attended school in Fortis Green, before being sent to St Christopher School in Hertfordshire, a vegetarian boarding school with Quaker leanings. Here he proved popular, being elected head boy by his fellow pupils, and played in a jazz band. However, the school had its shortcomings – Rory didn’t actually pass any exams. Fortunately, he swiftly acquired his A levels at North London Polytechnic, before studying medicine at University College Hospital.

Here, Rory’s interest in psychiatry started to take root. Rory trained in psychiatry at the Maudsley, and was then recruited as a senior lecturer and consultant at the human development unit of the University of Newcastle. There he helped write an influential book, Help starts here (London, Tavistock, 1981). Rory combined hyperactivity at work with a busy family life, spending weekends on innumerable visits to the Northumbrian countryside and coast or helping with his children’s teenage pursuits, however eccentric, including the keeping of pedigree dairy goats.

In 1986, when he became the first professor of child psychiatry at the University of Leicester he established an entirely new child and adolescent psychiatry service for the Leicestershire Health Authority, in which he served as clinical director. This was one of the first clinical directorships in psychiatry in the country. Here he developed a multidisciplinary service for learning disabled children and their families in the community. This initiative came to be regarded as a model for others, and has since been extended into a major multi-agency community service. In the same role, Rory attracted funds to set up the Greenwood Institute of Child Health at the University.

Rory also played a major role in a number of clinical innovations, including the development of family therapy techniques and training. He was the author of numerous books and papers. Panos Vostanis, his successor at Leicester, writes: ‘Professor Nicol made substantial contributions to academic child psychiatry across the world, in particular in understanding the links between deprivation and child mental health problems, as well as on the mental health needs of young offenders and children with learning disability.’ He was chairman of the child psychiatry section of the Royal College of Psychiatrists from 1990 to 1994.

Throughout his career Rory was also deeply involved in psychiatric education. He made an influential contribution to developing the skills and knowledge of various professionals across the different disciplines in child and adolescent mental health, including nursing, psychology, paediatrics, social work and education. In addition to medical undergraduate teaching, he supervised an array of theses, and had nine students, all of whom achieved first class honours in their BSc by research. He also had an active programme of MSc, MD and PhD students.

In the 1990s Rory came to play an influential role in Russian child psychiatry. Responding to requests by child and adolescent psychiatrists and mental health practitioners in St Petersburg, Rory made frequent trips to St Petersburg over a period of years to set up teaching and training programmes. He published a Russian-language book on child and adolescent mental health for the Russians, the second edition of which was published a fortnight before his death. Rory was keen to involve his British colleagues in the Russian project and was delighted that several of them actively participated. He was fascinated by the Russians, their culture and language. He became passionate about helping the Russians to learn the best of our techniques, and about learning from them.

Rory particularly enjoyed clinical practice and at the end of his career he took a locum post in Dartford, Kent, where he relished being a clinician once again.

Throughout his career Rory believed passionately in the NHS. He campaigned against cuts and later against the bringing-in of the private sector. Rory regarded the NHS as the jewel in our crown, in which profit-taking should play no part.

Rory’s unassuming style of leadership and the support, which he displayed in his relationships with colleagues and friends, was of particular note. He was greatly respected for his warmth and generosity by those who knew him and worked with him. He had a relaxed way of engendering positive teamwork.

He was much missed by his wife, Frances, children (Danny and Sophie) and grandchildren (Marc and Gina).

Danny Nicol
Trian Fundudis

[University of Leicester News and Events (accessed 26 April 2010)]

(Volume XII, page web)

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