Macdonald Critchley, MD, died on October 15, 1997, at age 97 years. He was an internationally known neurologist who was an enthralling lecturer and captivating writer. He was a bridge between the great British tradition of neurology, with representatives Walshe, Holmes, and Symonds, and the present.
Macdonald Critchley, MD
He was educated in Bristol and received his medical degree there. His professional life was spent in London at the National Hospital, Queen Square and at King's College Hospital. His interests were wide ranging, but his concentration was in higher brain functions. He pointed out many of the features of childhood dyslexia and received the Samuel Orton Award for his contributions. His book on the parietal lobes continues to be the ultimate reference on that subject. He had a great interest in history and wrote about the medical aspects of shipwreck, the Black Hole of Calcutta, the stroke of Samuel Johnson, and others. He recently completed a biography of Hughlings Jackson, whom he greatly admired. His concinnity in writing was only equaled by his eloquence in speaking. His various essays were assembled by him in 3 books: The Divine Banquet of the Brain, The Citadel of the Senses, and The Ventricle of Memory. They are a delight to read and are filled with the common and the arcane of neurology.
Critchley was a great lecturer with the flair and brio of a consummate actor. In fact, he considered entering the profession of acting at one point. His lectures were entertaining and instructive. These lectures were delivered without notes, and, if transcribed, would be ready for publication without editing. His demonstration with patients was done with great civility but with great ingenuity, revealing subtle deficits in language, motor skills, and sensation. If a patient's history or a finding interested him, time did not matter as he pursued an explanation.
He earned many honors and was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1962. He served for a time as Dean of the Institute of Neurology. He was president of the World Federation of Neurology from 1965 until 1973. He served in the Royal Navy in World War II.
He had strong views on many people and many subjects. He was a gracious host. An evening with his lovely wife, Eileen, and him at the Garrick Club was a joyous event. He would point out and describe the virtues and peccadilloes of the subjects of the various portraits. The conversation was often about the famous neurologist he had known or worked with. He had a wide acquaintance with physicians and scientists around the world. The neurologists he mentioned are now part of the hagiography of our specialty.
His retirement was marred in recent years by failing vision. His obsession with writing continued, to the benefit of us all. He was assisted in this work by Eileen. About her, he wrote, "Her wise and sensitive criticism on what I have written, have been invaluable, even vital."
Macdonald Critchley was a reminder of the great heritage of our specialty and a vibrant contributor to it.
Joynt RJ. In Memoriam—Macdonald Critchley, MD. Arch Neurol. 1998;55(1):122. doi:10.1001/archneur.55.1.122