Obituary: Dr Hector Fowlie OBE, psychiatrist

Born: 21 June, 1929, in Dundee. Died: 15 December, 2013 in Dundee, aged 84
Dr Hector Fowlie OBEDr Hector Fowlie OBE
Dr Hector Fowlie OBE

Hector Fowlie had a perceptive army officer to thank for setting him on the road that ultimately led to a career as an eminent psychiatrist.

Although he left school with a creditable clutch of eight Highers, all in science subjects, he failed to get into university due to his lack of a language qualification required for entrance.

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But during his subsequent National Service one officer discovered his difficulty and came up with a solution – he arranged for young Fowlie to have a French tutor and organised an invigilator to allow him to sit the exam.

As a result, when he was demobbed, he was able to get straight into university and embark on a medical degree.

Six years later he graduated MB ChB and fairly swiftly decided to specialise in psychiatry. In a long and distinguished career he trained countless professionals in the field, pioneered methadone treatment in Dundee, chaired Dundee Healthcare NHS Trust and was vice-chair of the Parole Board for Scotland, a role that introduced him to some of the country’s most notorious criminal cases, including those of the killers Jimmy Boyle and Robert Mone.

He also worked for the World Health Organisation, helping to improve the lives of psychiatric patients in Romania during the Ceausescu dictatorship – a daunting mission that illustrated his credentials as a champion of mental health causes and a passionate advocate for those who could not speak for themselves.

Just quite where his interest in medicine emanated from is not clear: there were no doctors in the family and his father was a banker.

Born and brought up in Dundee, Fowlie was educated at the city’s Harris Academy where he did not particularly shine academically.

As a child he had had a hankering to join the Indian Army and at 18 he was called up for National Service and posted not to India but to Malaya, where he served with the Scots Guards around the start of the Malayan Emergency, the jungle war between Commonwealth forces and the Communist guerillas of the Malayan National Liberation Army.

On completion of his two years’ service in 1949, he returned to Dundee and immediately entered University College, later to become Queen’s College, from where he graduated in 1955. He married Chris four days later in St Andrews.

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His career began as a house officer at Dundee’s Maryfield Hospital and Perth Royal Infirmary followed by a registrar’s post at Dundee Royal Mental Hospital, subsequently known as Royal Dundee Liff Hospital.

By the start of the 1960s he had become a lecturer in the psychiatry department of Dundee University’s medical school and in 1964 he moved to Gartnaval Royal Hospital in Glasgow – the only spell of his career that he spent outside Dundee.

He returned to his home city in 1970 as physician superintendent in charge of Liff and Strathmartine Hospitals and throughout the remainder of his career took on a series of roles, helping to transform mental health services from the so-called Cinderella of the NHS, principally an institutional service, to one that was community-based. He also wrote the medical book Psychiatry in Comprehensive Nursing.

He was consultant psychiatrist to Tayside Health Board, chairman of Dundee Association for Mental Health, served five years as vice-chairman of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland and was vice-chairman of the Parole Board, interviewing convicted murderer Jimmy Boyle, now a renowned sculptor, on several occasions.

Later, drawing on his experience of the criminal minds he had come across, he would give talks to various organisations and groups on “Murderers I Have Known”.

When there was an inquiry into the 1976 break-out of Robert Mone and Thomas McCulloch from the State Hospital, Carstairs, during which they murdered a nurse, a policeman and a patient, a psychiatrist was brought from England to take part in the probe.

As a quid pro quo Fowlie was asked to go to London for the Normansfield public inquiry that followed a strike by nursing staff over grievances against a psychiatrist.

He spent 18 months on the inquiry and found it fascinating but he still managed to keep an eye on Liff, returning to the hospital when he was back in Dundee at weekends, just to ensure it was running as he wanted during his absence.

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Fowlie, who was also a Council of Europe Scholar in Belgium, was a consultant for the World Health Organisation, setting up training for those involved in the field of mental health in 
Romania before the fall of Ceausescu.

It was a tough assignment, conducted during a period when the population was constantly under surveillance. Bugging was rife and he was followed everywhere.

He visited several times and on the first occasion had a note pressed into his hand advising him not to say anything indoors as everywhere would have listening devices.

However, he managed to bring home photographs illustrating the dire living conditions of children and adults suffering psychiatric problems. Witnessing toys locked in cabinets while youngsters rocked back and forth, he realised it was because they had no room to play and he set about encouraging carers to give the children more space, freedom to play and to encourage exercise.

He also brought staff, including social workers, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists, back to Scotland to show them how things were done here. Difficult though it was, he felt he had made some inroads into improving social and medical care.

Meanwhile, in Dundee in the 1980s he was one of the first to treat drug addicts with methadone and in 1989 was made an OBE for services to mental health. When NHS Trusts were formed in the early 1990s he was the first chairman of Dundee Healthcare NHS Trust where his leadership and integrity were self-evident.

Murray Petrie, who succeeded him, said he was respected by a wide range of clinicians: “Hector took up office at a time of significant change, both from an organisational and service point of view. He therefore faced significant challenge, firstly to form a new organisation from scratch and secondly to help refocus the way that mental health services were delivered.

“From the outset, all board meetings were held in public and his stewardship ensured that all services were shaped around the patient, an ethos that was to come more and more to the fore in years to come.

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“In the years that followed his retirement, I was privileged to lead a number of NHS organisations and Hector was always available to provide wise counsel and sound advice… on one occasion he reminded me that the NHS did not belong to the government, the board or the staff, but that it belonged to the people and that we must ensure that the people’s voices were heard to influence the way the service was run.”

Fowlie, who was an honorary fellow of Abertay University, was also president of Claverhouse Rotary Club and only recently received the organisation’s Paul Harris medal for his outstanding contribution to the community. His other interests included fishing, bowling and painting, 
mainly watercolours.

He is survived by his wife Chris, their children Stephen, Kay and Peter, seven grandchildren and two great-grand-daughters.