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Julius Merry

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2018

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Copyright © Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2004

Professor Merry was born on 1 June 1923 in the East End of London, then a depressed, poverty-stricken ghetto. His parents were Jewish é migrés from eastern Europe, whose surname was Lustigman, the name Julius carried until expediency obliged him to change it.

His father, the only breadwinner in the family, was a skilled tailor who was subject to the seasonal employment and sweat-shop conditions prevalent in the non-unionised tailoring trade prior to the first world war. Money was, therefore, always tight. The lingua franca was Yiddish, the language Julius and his young brother spoke until they were taught English at elementary school.

Academically, Julius shone from the beginning to such an extent that at the end of primary school, he was offered a scholarship to Christ Hospital School, a public school by then located at Horsham, Sussex. But the very title of the school, not to mention the medieval garb the pupils were obliged to wear, were anathema to his unsophisticated, intensely Jewish parents, so the offer was politely rejected. Instead, Julius was entered at Cowper Street boys school in London’s East End, a school famed for the large number of bright Jewish boys it spawned. Its alumni had made their mark in academia, in the law, and, particularly, in medicine (the science division of the sixth form was dubbed ‘ the medical sixth’).

However, Julius, for reasons not known, decided to leave school at 14 years of age and briefly tried his hand at the printing trade. For a while, he even toyed with joining the RAF. Not before long, he saw the error of his ways and was allowed to return to school to continue his education. Later, in 1941, he entered University College Medical School to graduate MB.BS(Lond) in 1946 with first-class honours. It was then that he found his career blocked by the cancer of anti-Semitism. Repeatedly, his applications for jobs were turned down until a sympathetic member of a committee that had failed him took him aside and advised him to change his name. This he decided to do, and he took steps to change his surname to Merry, an adaptation of its original German.

But in c. 1946, National Service was still compulsory and by that time, Julius had undergone profound religious, moral and political changes. He had rejected the tenets of Judaism and had become an avowed atheist; his political beliefs swung hard left and he had become, and remained, a convinced Marxist. Further, he had rebelled against war in any form and had become a conscientious objector. Inevitably, he was ‘called up’ and inevitably he refused the call. He appeared before two tribunals, the second of which was more sympathetic than the first and prepared to temporise. It had decided that, instead of donning military uniform, he was to be allowed to work as a junior doctor at Belmont Hospital, Surrey, then an important centre for the treatment of psychiatric war casualties, both military and civil.

Belmont, as it turned out, was a godsend. Julius was intrigued by the clinical complexities of the patients’ problems, and as for teachers, he had available for the asking the crème-de-lacrème of the psychiatric establishment - including Louis Minski, Will Sargant, Eliot Slater and Maxwell Jones.

Julius spend 5 invaluable years at Belmont, time enough to be convinced that psychiatry must be his métier. To this end, he gained the DPM (Eng) in 1949 and the MD (Psych Med) London in 1963. He was elected FRCPsych in 1972.

He subsequently held appointments in a number of hospitals including Epsom District Hospital, St Bernard’s Hospital, Southall, St Ebba’s Hospital, Epsom, and St Thomas’ Hospital, London. He became recognised as a Teacher in Psychiatry by the University of London. Of paramount importance, however, was the teaching he gave at the University of Surrey, in recognition of which he was elected to an Honorary Professorship. Julius was an excellent general psychiatrist, but his particular interest was in the doubtfully rewarding treatment of alcoholism and drug dependence, about which he wrote extensively and was considered a world authority.

Julius’ life story would be incomplete without mentioning his sporting prowess: he was an excellent soccer player and represented London University at this game (an offer from Millwall F.C. was declined). In addition, he played a very good game of tennis. But a major preoccupation in Julius’ busy life was collecting. His tastes were eclectic, with two special interests: first, he was very keen on the work of Clarice Cliff, best known as a paintress of fine china and second, Victorian landscapes and Venetian scenes. The net result was that his house became a veritable Aladdin’s cave, crammed from top to bottom with his accumulated treasures.

When working at Belmont, Julius met, courted and in 1953, married a Norwegian girl, Ruth Myrvang, an auxiliary nurse. They produced two children, Nina, born in 1954, and Peter in 1957. Nina is a probation officer and Peter became a consultant rheumatologist in Norwich. In 1960, the domestic bliss was shattered by Ruth’s sudden illness: out of the blue, she suffered a massive subarachnoid haemorrhage. She survived, but was left severely and permanently brain-damaged with the result that she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Norway where she still lives. The appalling tragedy broke Julius’ heart and for the rest of his life he paid regular visits to Norway to see her. The marriage was dissolved.

In 1973, Julius remarried, to Jane Forson, an occupational therapist at West Park Hospital, and they remained happily married until his death.

In 1999, Julius was diagnosed as suffering from pancreatic cancer for which he underwent a Whipple’s operation with seeming success. Sadly, 3 years later, the cancer recurred: the prognosis was hopeless. At his own request, he was transferred from Epsom District Hospital to Princess Alice Hospice, where he died on 25 August 2003.

Julius remained firm to his adopted beliefs: he was cremated and the proceedings were devoid of any semblance of religious overtones and, in accordance with his prior instructions, everyone who attended the crematorium was presented with a free copy of the Socialist Standard.

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