Lives of the fellows

Sheila Rosemary Lewis

b.12 June 1932 d.29 December 2013
MB BS Lond(1956) DCH(1959) MRCP(1964) PhD(1969) FRCP(1978) FRCPCH(1996)

Sheila Lewis was a consultant paediatrician at North Middlesex Hospital, north London, from 1972 to 1993. Initially single-handed, she developed the much-respected paediatric department at North Middlesex Hospital, then set up a similarly effective child development team at St Ann’s Hospital, Tottenham.

She was born in Aberystwyth and educated at St Brandon’s Clergy Daughter’s School and King’s College Hospital Medical School. She held junior doctor jobs at various London hospitals, including King’s, Whittington and St Stephen’s. As a PhD student at the London Hospital she worked with and later married her beloved husband Kenneth Cross [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.107].

Her childhood in the Rhondda Valley as the daughter of an Anglican clergyman, Henry Lewis, gave her first-hand experience of deprivation. It is not surprising then that she was a life-long member of the Labour Party and a passionate advocate for the rights of children and their families. This she put to good use in her ‘patch’ of north London.

Her mother died when she was 16 and her father when she was 18. With no children of her own, she grew a large and devoted extended family, including cousins, step-children, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

By valuing people, she built up loyal multidisciplinary teams of doctors, nurses, laboratory staff, colleagues in other disciplines, therapists and secretarial staff, with excellent working relationships in the hospital and in the community. Many general practices had partners trained by Sheila and at one time half the consultants at North Middlesex were previous trainees.

Her determination, powers of persuasion and clear vision made her a supreme advocate for children, parents and staff. When the new tower block was built, she predicted that while mothers waited in the antenatal clinic, their toddlers could reach the elevated walkway and fall through the railings; within a week of her sending a letter to the architects the fence was made child-proof. On another occasion she fought bureaucracy to make sure resident mothers were fed.

In retirement she remained a friend and confidante to members of the team – doctors, nurses, therapists, secretaries and managers.

Her skills were put to good use after she retired, when she became a vice chair of the Vale School for physically disabled children, as well as a volunteer with ChildLine, the Association for Infant Mental Health, Cruse Bereavement Care and RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People).

Limited eye-sight did not inhibit her sense of fun nor her artistic skills, including painting and poetry.

She planned her own funeral and would have been pleased to know that it was a gregarious affair, with everyone exchanging anecdotes of an extraordinary life well-lived.

Mary Rossiter

[The Guardian 10 January 2014; BMJ 2014 348 2322]

(Volume XII, page web)

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