Lives of the fellows

Thomas Arthur Ross

b.26 July 1875 d.3 March 1941
MB CM Edin(1897) MD Edin(1901) FRCPE(1919) MRCP(1926) FRCP(1933)

Thomas Ross was born in Edinburgh, the son of Thomas Ross, LL.D., an architect. His father was joint author with David MacGibbon of The Ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland, and of The Castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland, both of which remain classics of architectural literature. His mother was Mary, the daughter of James McLaren, headmaster of an Edinburgh school. Her brother was Dr Patrick McLaren, who influenced Ross in becoming a doctor. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University, and when he graduated he was recognised as a future leader, for he was elected senior president of the Royal Medical Society, where students and residents of the Royal Infirmary still meet for lectures and discussions. After appointments as house physician and house surgeon at his own teaching hospital he became assistant, and later successor, to Dr J. M. Williamson, of Ventnor, Isle of Wight. This was a mixed practice. Later he was appointed physician to the Royal National Hospital for Consumption and worked with Williamson at a nursing home called ‘Hygieia’, where patients with nervous diseases were treated. He later paid tribute to Williamson, who ‘introduced him to nervous patients and taught him how to speak to them’. At that time the average medical officer of an institution for neurotic patients was quite content with the passive ‘Weir Mitchell’ treatment of complete rest in a darkened room and a high calorie diet, but Ross came to see he could not expect other than poor results from principles in which he had no faith. Slowly he worked out for himself the theory of the importance of the emotional factor and its application in treatment by ‘persuasion’; the patient must be persuaded that his illness was his personal solution for a difficult personal problem, which he could resolve only by envisaging an image of himself, and becoming adjusted to his environment. This idea he found reinforced in the writings of Dubois in Switzerland and Dejerine in France, and supported by conversations with men like Sir Victor Horsley, Sir Arthur Hurst, Sir Maurice Craig, Sir Robert Hutchison, and his pupils E. B. Strauss and R. D. Gillespie. While he was prepared to use hypnosis in suitable patients he rejected Freud’s hypothesis for them all, and considered long drawn-out psycho-analysis as generally time wasting and useless.

Experience of treating men with war neuroses at Springfield Mental Hospital widened his horizon and prepared him for the post of first medical director of the Cassel Hospital at Penshurst in Kent, where he remained for fifteen years till 1934, when a coronary thrombosis compelled his retirement and he settled in private practice in London. Yet he was persuaded in 1939 to act as psychotherapist to the Woodside Hospital and to give lectures to medical officers of the Armed Forces. He served on three special B.M.A, committees—on research in mental disease, mental health, and psycho-analysis—and was president of the psychiatric section of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1936. In his Morison lecture at Edinburgh in 1935 he forecast a future relationship of psychiatry and internal medicine when the cardiologist, without the aid of the psychiatrist, would describe to his students the origin and treatment of psychogenic tachycardia as he then did the cause and management of mitral stenosis. Ill health and misfortune did not debar him from hard work although he had his full share of both, for his wife died while still comparatively young, his only son died while a student at the London Hospital, and he himself had encephalomyelitis two years before his coronary thrombosis in 1934. He remained sociable and witty with friends who like himself loved music and card-games.

He was married twice; first in 1902 to Emily, daughter of Baker Bridge, of Ventnor, by whom he had one son and one daughter; second in 1939 to Mrs Norah Cecil Runge, O.B.E., at one time deputy chairman of the L.C.C., and M.P. for Rotherhithe from 1931 to 1936.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1941,1, 463-4; J. nerv. ment. Dis., 1941, 94, 253-5; Lancet, 1941, 1, 366 (p),403.]

(Volume V, page 359)

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