Robert Freeland Barbour, known as ‘Bob’ to all his colleagues and friends, was born in Colinton, Midlothian, the son of Alexander Freeland Barbour, an Edinburgh gynaecologist, and his wife Margaret Nelson née Brown.
He was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Gresham’s School and Cambridge University, graduated BA(Hons) and MA and, after clinical education in Edinburgh, MB ChB in 1929 with the Anandale gold medal in clinical surgery. After senior house physician appointments in Edinburgh he was awarded a Rockefeller fellowship, 1931-33, to the United States where he worked at the Psychopathic Hospital in Boston and the Henry Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. On his return to England he became assistant medical officer at the Maudsley Hospital, 1933-36.
In 1936 he went to Bristol to start one of the first provincial child guidance clinics as director. Under the auspices of the local education authority this clinic and the Bristol Child and Family Guidance Service, to which he was senior consultant, pioneered team work with psychologists and social workers to provide services to the magistrates court and the education authority in respect of delinquent or maladjusted children and those with learning problems. This soon became a national model. As senior psychiatric clinical assistant to Bristol Royal Infirmary he also maintained an interest in outpatient service for adults.
During the second world war he served with the RAMC from 1940-44, first as Command specialist in psychiatry to Southern Command, with the rank of major, and subsequently to West African Command. He was later promoted to lieutenant colonel and acted as adviser in psychiatry to Western Command. From 1943-44 he was consultant in psychological medicine to MEF with the rank of brigadier. After the war he returned to Bristol as senior consultant to the Bristol Child and Family Guidance Service and was also appointed honorary consultant psychiatrist to the Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children and honorary psychiatric physician to Bristol Royal Infirmary. With the inception of the National Health Service he became consultant psychiatrist to United Bristol Hospitals and served in the NHS until his retirement in 1969.
Bob was an enthusiastic and popular clinical teacher in the University of Bristol and took a prominent part in the training of all members of the child guidance team, as well as nurses and junior medical staff in the hospitals. After retirement he played a major role in continuing education for older people and helped to establish the University of the Third Age. His final brief illness began while he was lecturing to the Bristol branch and he died within a few hours.
Bob Barbour made an outstanding contribution to the development of child psychiatry. Team work with colleagues was the keynote of his philosophy, so that paediatricians were encouraged to work with all members of his team, to assist in diagnosis and treatment of children with behaviour problems, and this led to much important research on psychosomatic disorders and the relevance of environmental factors. His high intellectual calibre and lively wit in debate, with constant questioning of traditional methods, ensured trust and respect. The acceptance by hospital staff in Bristol of the modern child-centred approach for the care of sick children and their relatives was largely due to his influence which continued long after his retirement.
Bob was tall and physically active. He enjoyed country walking, climbing, playing tennis and foreign travel. In 1929 he married an American psychiatric social worker, Constance Speer, daughter of Robert Elliott Speer who was secretary to the Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, New York. His wife, who was his devoted companion, was always known as ‘Pat’. She survived him, with their two daughters and a son.
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