Lives of the fellows

Ruth Porter

b.24 June 1925 d.28 July 2012
MB ChB Edin(1948) DCH(1951) MRCP(1958) FRCP(1973) MRCPsych(1974) FRCPsych (1980)

Ruth Porter was deputy director of the CIBA Foundation. Born in Croydon, Surrey, she was the daughter of Frank Porter, a civil servant at the Admiralty and his wife Marjorie Lilian née Pascal, whose father James was a businessman. She lost her father when she was only seven and her mother died when she had just completed her training. Educated at St George's School, Harpendon, Hertfordshire, she studied medicine at Edinburgh University and the Royal Infirmary.

Qualifying in 1948, she did house jobs at St Alfege's Hospital, Greenwich, and the Redhill County Hospital in Surrey, before becoming paediatric house officer in 1951 at the Southampton Children's Hospital. Later that year she moved to the Victoria Hospital for Children in London in a similar post and then went to the North Middlesex Hospital. From 1952 to 1956 she worked as a registrar at various hospitals, including the Lister and Southend General, and travelled to Jamaica for six months to work at the University College Hospital of the West Indies. On her return she became registrar in radiotherapy at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, then medical registrar, remaining there from 1956 to 1959.

At that point she left hospital medicine and became a medical advisor to the pharmaceutical industry (Cyanamid of Great Britain and Boehringer Ingelheim) and was secretary to the Association of Medical Advisors in the Pharmaceutical Industry from 1962 to 1964. She then joined the staff of the Ciba Foundation, which at that time took a leading role in funding medical research, and became their deputy director in 1969. In this role her skills in writing and communication rapidly became apparent. During her time at Ciba she also worked for one session a week at the Royal Northern Hospital (RNH) as a clinical assistant in their department of psychiatry. In 1973, when she was elected a fellow of the RCP, she was still in post at Ciba and also carrying out the work at the RNH.

In the mid-1950s she had suffered a bout of severe depression, probably brought on, she felt, by a failed relationship and the recent death of her mother. This increased her empathy with the mental problems of others and she underwent first a Freudian and then a Kleinian analysis. She passed the membership of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1974 and, 10 years later, was awarded their honorary fellowship and became president of the Royal Society of Medicine’s section of psychiatry. The following year she started training in psychotherapy with the Guild of Psychotherapists. At the Hammersmith Hospital she began work as a psychotherapist in the geriatric unit, which was to influence what she did later.

Expanding her work with the elderly, she took on patients at St Charles Hospital, the Royal Free, the Westminster Pastoral Foundation and also from general practice. She also saw some in her home, with the advice and help of Robert Hinshelwood and Richard Lucas. It was due to her initiative that the older adults section of the Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists was formed within the NHS and her influence within this group is still prevalent. Not only did her own experience of mental health problems increase her sympathy with patients, but also her knowledge of literature gave her a wider outlook and she linked the biological and psychological when discussing their problems. She very much believed in listening to patients.

Retiring in 1997, she left London and joined her two sisters in Cheltenham. There she continued to enjoy cooking gourmet food and the appreciation of fine wines, hosting a memorable 80th birthday celebration in 2005. A keen follower of the arts, she was passionate about literature all her life and could quote poems she remembered from her school years.

In her later years she suffered much ill health, as she herself had said ‘Old age is not for softies’. When she died she was survived by her niece and nephew Frank Thomas, and their families.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2013 346 1772 - accessed 20 November 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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