Aubrey Lewis was born in Adelaide, and graduated from that University in 1923. After working as a medical registrar, he proceeded to anthropological research on aborigines. He then turned to psychiatry and was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship which took him to the Boston Psychopathic Hospital, to the famous Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins and later to Berlin and Heidelberg. For a time, he worked at the National Hospital, Queen Square. He first joined the Maudsley staff as a research worker in 1928, but next year was appointed to the staff of the hospital.
His rise to eminence was rapid. He was appointed consultant in psychological medicine to the British Postgraduate Medical School in 1935, and became clinical Director of the Maudsley Hospital in 1936. After a further Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled him to visit the chief centres of psychiatric research in Europe, the war intervened. During this period he remained clinical Director of that part of the Maudsley Hospital evacuated to Mill Hill School, and it was during this period that he developed a close friendship and working relationship with Sir Francis Fraser, later the first Director of the British Postgraduate Federation.
In 1946, Aubrey Lewis was appointed Professor of Psychiatry in the University of London and Director of the professorial unit at the Maudsley Hospital. He initiated and was appointed Hon. Director of the MRC Social Psychiatry Research Unit in 1948, and through this and his teaching and writing, greatly influenced the development of psychiatry in the UK.
In 1952 he was appointed the first psychiatrist on the Medical Research Council. He served as Civilian Consultant to the RAF from 1945 to 1967, and was later to serve as a member of the medical subcommittee of the UGC and a member of the WHO advisory committee on medical research. He was honoured by societies in many countries including Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Poland and Venezuela. He had the unusual honour, for a psychiatrist, of being elected to Membership of the American Philosophical Society. He served on the Council and as Examiner for the Royal College of Physicians, gave the Bradshaw Lecture in 1957 and the Harveian Oration in 1963. He gave numerous eponymous lectures both in this country and elsewhere.
It is to Sir Aubrey’s lasting credit that he masterminded the creation of the Institute of Psychiatry and its very close relationship with the newly formed Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospital in 1947. Through his remarkable qualities as a teacher, the high regard in which he was held by leaders of medicine in other fields, his remarkable foresight and tenacious pertinacity as well as his great scholarship, he was able to educate and train students who were to fill, in due course, many of the most important academic posts in psychiatry, not only in the UK, but also in the Commonwealth. His qualities as a leader were always apparent, but never obtrusive. As a teacher, he disliked loose thinking, ill-defined terms and inadequately supported conclusions. He was a remorseless critic and came to be feared by some students, although he always gained their respect. His main objective was to create research workers and people who could fill posts which he knew would be greatly needed in academic psychiatry in the future.
As a clinician, Sir Aubrey was sensitive and very kind, but he personally distanced himself from patients’ problems. As a man, he was something of an enigma. He had immense intellectual integrity and courage, and great determination. But he was naturally shy and had few intimates; his sparkling humour was always beneath the surface, but rarely witnessed. He had considerable literary skills, and towards the end of his life, while he kept up his output of writing, a lyrical quality appeared, particularly in his book reviews for The Times Literary Supplement.
His publications are numerous. At the time of his retirement these were gathered together in two volumes, Inquiries in Psychiatry and The State of Psychiatry, published by his students. Later, after his death, a further volume of collected works appeared - The Later Papers of Sir Aubrey Lewis.
Lewis was recognised as the leading psychiatrist of his time in this country, and among the leaders of the subject throughout the world. His death in 1975 produced many moving tributes to him from all over the world.
In 1934, he married Hilda Stoessiger, MD (q.v.), and they had two sons and daughters. Lady Lewis died in 1966, most unhappily within a month of his retirement. It was characteristic of his fortitude that, soon after her death, he insisted on presiding over his last examination for his students of the Postgraduate Academic Diploma in Psychological Medicine, a qualification which, at that time, bore the insignia of a Maudsley student, a diploma which had had persuaded the University to introduce.
Sir Denis Hill
[Brit. med. J., 1975, 1, 279 & 687; Lancet, 1975, 1, 288; Bethlem-Maudsley Hosp. Gaz, 1966, 3, 2-16; Assoc Univ Teachers of Psych Newsletter Feb 1975; Schweiz Arch Neurol Neurochir Psychiat 1968, 98, 386-389; Comparative epidemiology of the mental disorders, ed PH Hoch & J Zubin, 1961, ix-xiv; Mem Service Liberal Synagogue, London NW8, 1975]