Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Harris, Sir Charles Felix (1900 - 1974)

Kt 1968; MRCS 1923; Hon FRCS 1966; MB BS London 1923; MD 1925; LRCP 1923; MRCP 1925; FRCP 1932; Hon LLD 1973.

30 March 1900
New York, USA
10 March 1974


The following was published in volume 5 of Plarr's Lives of the Fellows

Charles Felix Harris was born in New York on 30 March 1900. He spent his childhood in Australia, but completed his education at Epsom College and St Bartholomew's Hospital, qualifying with the Conjoint Diploma and the London degree in 1923. After early house appointments he took the MD degree and the MRCP in 1925, and then concentrated on paediatric training at Great Ormond Street and at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore.

He was appointed assistant physician to St Bartholomew's in 1928, and in the following year became the first physician in charge of a separate department for the diseases of children. His was a complicated character, and many found him difficult to get to know intimately; his many-sided nature was never shown more clearly than in his clinical work, where his somewhat gruff manner was counterbalanced by the gentleness with which he managed his small patients and their parents.

In 1936 he was appointed Warden of the Medical College and thus commenced a succession of administrative tasks which gradually became the prime interest in his life. At the outbreak of war he took charge of what remained of St Bartholomew's Hospital under the Emergency Medical Service, and at the end of it he took over from Girling Ball as Dean of the Medical College. He thus established a reputation for committee work which was still further enhanced by his subsequent duties in the University of London.

Harris was elected to the Senate of the University in 1950, and to the Court in 1951. He became Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, and Chairman of the Academic Council from 1953 to 1958, and Vice-Chancellor from 1958 to 1961. In the latter year he was elected Chairman of Convocation, and also of the Joint Finance and General Purposes Committee, positions which he held till within a few months of his death.

These committees brought him into close contact with many of the schools of the university, particularly the specialist schools and post-graduate Institutes. He always held that in the interests of the staff of the students it was better for the post-graduate to be independent of the undergraduate schools, and he was most helpful as a member of the governing body of the British Postgraduate Medical Federation, and the Committee of Management of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences. This latter appointment meant a close link with the Royal College of Surgeons, and in recognition of his support he was elected an Honorary Fellow of the College in 1966. The University's appreciation of his services was expressed by the award of an Honorary LLD in 1973.

His final illness, though harrowing in nature, was mercifully short, and borne with wonderful courage. He died in St Bartholomew's Hospital on 10 March 1974, and his wife Nadia, who always loyally supported him in all his work, survived him.

The following was published in volume 6 of Plarr's Lives of the Fellows

Charles Felix Harris was born in New York on 30 March 1900. He spent his childhood in Australia, but received his later education at Epsom College and St Bartholomew's, where he qualified in 1923. He served as house physician at Bart's and in 1925 proceeded MD and took the MRCP. After a few months as house physician at Great Ormond Street and a period in the paediatric department of Johns Hopkins Medical School, Baltimore, he became chief assistant in the children's department at Bart's and in 1928 was appointed assistant physician. The department at that time was represented only in outpatients, children who were inpatients being cared for by the general physicians. In 1929 Charles Harris became the first physician in charge of a separate children's department with its own ward accommodation, a personal triumph. Also in that year he married Edith Nadejda Goldsmith.

In 1936 he was appointed warden of the Medical College. At the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 he took over the task of medical officer in charge of St Bartholomew's Hospital under the Emergency Medical Service. He organised the hospital for its wartime role, maintained the college activities and education on that site, and at the same time continued his teaching in paediatrics. In 1945 he became Dean of the Medical College.

His administrative ability was recognised by the University of London. He became Chairman of the Deans of Metropolitan Medical Schools and was elected to the Senate of the University in 1950 and to its Court in 1951. He was Chairman of the Academic Council and from 1958 to 1961 Vice-Chancellor. He was then elected Chairman of Convocation. During many busy years he found time to help in the governing bodies of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the School of Pharmacy. The part he played in the establishment of the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences at the Royal College of Surgeons was recognised in 1966 by the award of an honorary FRCS. In 1968 he was knighted, and the University of London conferred an honorary LLD upon him.

Sir Charles had been physician to the Westminster Hospital for Children, Vincent Square, and consultant paediatrician to the London County Council. From 1934 to 1938 he was joint editor of Archives of disease in childhood. In 1962 he was President of the British Paediatric Association.

Charles Harris gravitated to a position of control in every one of his activities. He had that natural authority which is essential to the conduct of affairs. At school, in hospital, in medical college, in the University of London, Harris achieved eminence and considerable power. He was a remarkable chairman and member of committees. His grasp of the situation and his judgement were based on careful study. He could be a formidable opponent and a remarkable advocate. Disagreements were inevitable, but they were not taken outside the committee room, and in defeat the jocular grumble, the tilt of the head, and the disarming smile would rapidly dispel any rancour. He knew many people, but it was the privilege of few to know the real Charles Harris; to these he showed remarkable loyalty and kindness. Beneath his somewhat abrupt manner one could perceive the features of gentleness which were so well demonstrated in his management of children and their parents. When seemingly unobserved, his affection for and enjoyment in children were readily apparent. He faced his final illness with the reserve and fortitude with which he had faced other problems in his life. He died on 10 March 1974, aged 73 years.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit med J 1974, 1, 645; The Times 19 March 1974].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England