Frederick Lucien Golla, son of Lucien Golla, was born in London and educated at Tonbridge School, Magdalen College, Oxford, and St. George’s Hospital, graduating MB BCh in 1904. By that time he was already pursuing an interest in clinical neurology. In 1908 he was appointed assistant physician at St George’s, and in 1913 elected to the staff of the Maida Vale Hospital. He served as a lieutenant in the RAMC during the 1914-18 war, serving with the 2nd Division in France, and was mentioned in despatches. He was a member of several War Office committees and in 1919 he was appointed OBE. In 1920 he became a full physician at St George’s. He was elected a Fellow of the College in 1918 and gave the Croonian Lecture in 1921, his subject being the objective study of neurosis. This was to remain his most profound professional interest throughout his long life. In 1923 when Sir Frederick Mott retired from the directorship of the Central Pathological Laboratory at the Maudsley Hospital, Golla succeeded him and became honorary director of the Maudsley Hospital Medical School. In 1937 he gave the Maudsley Lecture and in the same year he was appointed professor of mental pathology in the University of London. At this time, with his research assistant Grey Walter, he began important clinical studies at Maida Vale Hospital. Golla directed work in three main channels - histological, chemical, and electro-physiological - but it is for his work on electroencephalography that he will be principally remembered.
He was elected president of the neurology and psychiatry section of the Royal Society of Medicine, president of the Electroencephalographic Society and of the Society for the Study of Addiction, and he was also a member of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association.
In 1939, after 16 years at the Maudsley laboratories, he began a third career at the age of 60. He became the first Director of the Burden Neurological Institute in Bristol, where he remained in clinical and scientific work until he retired in 1959, at the age of 80 years. He celebrated his 90th birthday at the Institute and roundly lectured the staff on the lines their work should take.
Golla’s quiet and retiring nature masked an acute mind and it was soon clear that he was more at home in neurological research than private practice. All through his long career Golla scored many ‘firsts’ by a combination of intuitive sagacity and practical perseverance. He was a voracious reader in five languages and had the magic gift of spotting a remark in some obscure journal which would later spark off a whole range of innovations. His manner was reserved; he was a most courteous listener but always concerned, in his own words, to ensure that 'homo loquax should not obtain ascendancy over homo faber', His distinguished appearance, somewhat aloof, led many to suppose that he was difficult to approach. But closer acquaintance corrected this impression; he enjoyed intelligent discussion and his sense of humour is attested by passages appropriately introduced into some of his major papers. He claimed that during the whole of his medical training he attended only one lecture - and then fell asleep.
Golla made valuable contributions to the scientific study of mental disorder but as the years went by he dwelt more and more on the impossibility of interpreting problems of disordered conduct by purely scientific means. Science, he held, is too particular for the concrete whole and too abstract for the individual. He wanted to press forward, as he put it, ‘from the dead world of science to the living world of purpose and values where the ethical, aesthetic and religious considerations do not need to be deliberately excluded, in the interests of a highly abstract account of conduct, whether normal or psychotic’.
Golla was scientist and philosopher, scholar and clinician. He had strong opinions; some of them were proved by time to have been mistaken, but all were products of profound reflection and an active and sincere love of research. His aloof manner hid a naturally emotional and affectionate temperament; similarly a scholarly aptitude for philosophical rumination sometimes gave the impression of an almost arrogant mysticism, as though he knew the truth but felt it was not worth disclosing to a fool. In fact he knew well that our ignorance of the truth and the limit of our days are the only truths we can know.
Golla was twice married, first in 1908 to Thérèse d’Haussaire, by whom he had a daughter, and secondly in 1919 to Yvonne Ray who died in 1963.
Sir Aubrey Lewis
Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
[Brit.med.J., 1968, 1, 584; Lancet, 1968, 2, 367-8; Times, 6 Feb 1968]