Lives of the fellows

George Thomas Lewith

b.12 January 1950 d.17 March 2017
BA Cantab(1971) MB BChir(1974) MRCP(1977) Dip Acup Nanjing(1978) MRCGP(1980) DM Southampton(1994) FRCP(1999)

George Lewith was an internationally-renowned practitioner, researcher and lecturer in complementary and integrative medicine. George’s parents, Frank and Alice Lewith, both of whom were Czech, were Second World War concentration camp survivors. Having met and married in Prague after the war, they emigrated to the UK and settled in Cardiff, where George was born. Later in life, he was to take a great interest in how so many first-generation Holocaust survivors, like himself, grew up to be driven, determined, high achievers in their chosen fields. George certainly had an unrelenting determination to make a positive difference to other people’s lives.

His enquiring mind was apparent even at school: on one occasion, he was admonished by the headmaster for ordering a copy of Mao’s Little red book so that he could make his own assessment of it. After graduating in medicine and biochemistry at Trinity College, Cambridge, George completed his clinical studies at Westminster Medical School – taking great pride in having been in the rugby team when, two years running, it won the coveted Hospitals Cup.

He began clinical work in London in 1974, gaining his MRCP in 1977, later being elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1999. In 1978 he and his wife, Nicola, a physiotherapist, were sponsored by the World Health Organization to study acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine at the University of Nanjing in China, the first UK medics to do so.

On their return, the couple settled in Hampshire, with George working initially as a GP. In 1983, he and a partner set up the Centre for the Study of Complementary Medicine. With clinics in Southampton and London, and various NHS contracts, this was to become the UK’s largest practice providing integrative medicine. George gained much pleasure from seeing and treating patients and was passionate about treating them as a whole, with great emphasis on holistic care. Thousands of patients feel indebted to George for the compassionate, often life-changing treatment they received.

George had a long-standing passion for research. He was a founder member of the Research Council for Complementary Medicine in 1983. In 1995, he established the complementary and integrated medicine research unit at the University of Southampton, before becoming a professor of health research, leading the integrated medicine group at the university. In 2003, George developed and initiated the first annual conference on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Strategies, Training, Research and New Developments (CAMSTRAND).

He had extensive international networks, particularly with the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. Still at the height of his abilities, he was perhaps the most effective international advocate for complementary and integrative medicine.

One of complementary and alternative medicine’s most able and prominent researchers, George was passionate about the importance of building the scientific evidence base for complementary medicine and its dissemination. He believed that understanding research is necessary for preparing all healthcare practitioners and strived to engage practitioners in research, and was particularly driven in engaging and supporting young people wishing to develop their research careers.

George had a remarkable breadth and depth to his research. Over 35 years he obtained a significant number of institutional peer-reviewed fellowships at doctoral and post-doctoral level, gained research grants totalling over £5 million and published over 330 peer-reviewed publications and wrote or contributed to several books. He was particularly interested in the placebo effect – usually overlooked as a topic for research. Other areas of research included pain management, arthritis, anti-microbial resistance, cancer survivorship, mindfulness, healing, herbal medicines and resilience.

Later in his career, George became a visiting professor at the University of Westminster Centre for Resilience. Having watched his youngest son battle trials and tribulations as a junior doctor within the NHS, he was alarmed at the lack of support for the mental wellbeing of our doctors. He helped to develop initiatives and awareness to help young doctors develop a greater resilience in order to cope with the increasing burdens put upon them.

George was still working passionately on these projects when he passed away unexpectedly. Immensely popular with all the staff of the department of primary care at Southampton University, he is very sorely missed. He was a key driving force behind the unit’s research programme – a generous collaborator, an inspirational mentor to younger researchers. To many in the world of integrative medicine he was a personal and valued friend, known and trusted for decades.

Outside of his extensive career, George’s personal qualities will be most missed. George was a very committed family man, married for 40 years to Nicola, very proud of his three children and absolutely overjoyed with his three grandchildren. He also managed to maintain a balance in his life, despite being so busy, travelling widely, and finding time for swimming, singing in a choir, daily meditation and, as a proud Welshman, passionately following the Welsh national rugby team. George died while skiing in the mountains, a place he always felt close to.

George’s unrelenting determination to make a positive difference to other people’s lives, generosity, quiet words of advice and genuine interest in everyone will be sorely missed by all who met him. He was survived by Nicola, their children, Tom, Emily and Henry, and grandchildren, Beatrix, Arthur and Alfie.

Henry Lewith

[BMJ 2017 357 2656 www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j2656 – accessed 10 October 2017; British Acupuncture Council Tribute to George Lewith www.acupuncture.org.uk/public-content/public-pr-press-releases/5854-a-tribute-to-george-lewith.html – accessed 10 October 2017; NICM The science of integrative medicine In memory, Professor George Lewith http://nicm.edu.au/news/in_memory,_professor_george_lewith – accessed 10 October 2017; Wikipedia George Lewith https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Lewith – accessed 10 October 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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