Richard Edmund Warburg (1949-2018)

An appreciation.

Many of us were saddened last Autumn at the death, following a short illness, of a neuropsychology colleague and mentor who provided a compassionate and highly professional service to all clients who came his way.

Richard Edmund Warburg was born in August 1949. His father lectured in Botany at the University of Oxford, and his mother was a noted plantswoman, who had a type of snowdrop named after her (Primrose Warburg). Richard was born with a hole in his heart, and he had a successful operation during his late teens in relation to this condition, one of the first such operations.

Richard was educated at Stowe Independent School, Richard Branson being a contemporary at the time. Richard went on to do a degree course in Natural Sciences at Trinity College Cambridge. Training in Clinical Psychology followed at the University of Liverpool, and later Richard undertook a top-up Doctorate project at the University of Bangor, examining the ways that neuropsychologists go about memory testing in their assessment work. His NHS career started in Sheffield, but Richard spent a good portion of his professional career heading up the Neuropsychology Service at North Manchester General Hospital. Later in his career, Richard worked with the Acquired Brain Injury Service in Cheshire, as well as Brain Injury Services in Shropshire and Wolverhampton. Over a period of time, Richard also worked in medico-legal settings, working regularly with solicitors such as Slater Gordon (previously Pannone), and Potter Rees.

Richard’s first marriage was with Sheila, with whom he had two children – Anna and Laurie. Richard was re-married to Angela in Crete in 2005 – from the children in both marriages, there are five grandchildren.

In correspondence, Anna and Laurie spoke fondly of growing up and being guinea pigs in trying out new test procedures (a common finding amongst relatives of neuropsychologists) or playing with models of the brain in their father’s work office. They also spoke of Richard’s calm and wise support in developing and progressing their own interests – e.g. basketball for Laurie; driving lessons for Anna. However, they also gave examples of a dad who delighted in pranks on certain celebrations (e.g. April Fool’s day, Halloween events) and with the family television apparently being ‘lost’ on one such occasion. The view of Richard as a generally calm person was sometimes challenged, for example if he got a bad hand in a card game!

At a time of loss, there is a tendency to idealise, but in seeking comments and tributes from colleagues about Richard, the constant theme was of a gentle person who put his clients at the centre of his work, and who was well-liked by all colleagues due to his compassionate style in mentoring others. However, he did not suffer fools gladly. Humour was often apparent in his interactions with others – a nice example being the occasion when, on signing in to an NHS building, and under the heading which said ‘Company’ , Richard wrote ‘reasonable, sometimes pleasant’. Many colleagues gave examples of Richard’s kindness and wisdom in helping them to develop aspects of their professional practice, particularly in the early stages of their practice. The comfort of sharing thoughts and views about clinical matters over a chocolate digestive biscuit was mentioned by a few colleagues, and that is one of my first professional memories of Richard when he set up the North West Neuropsychology Special Interest Group in Manchester in the 1990s.

Colleagues from the Cheshire Brain Injury service spoke of ‘a delight in posing awkward or unusual questions …..  Part of this was his sometimes elongated pausing before a response came. He appeared to have gone to another place. On occasions he had actually gone to another place and would return after a prompt, on an unrelated topic. As in one of his most fondly remembered lines was: “I did hear you but I wasn’t listening.” This demonstrated several things that made him stand out. First, his honesty, second his actual frequent losing himself in the ideas that were playing in his mind.'

Many of us benefitted from Richard’s authoritative input in clinical supervision also. Some of my meetings with Richard took place during short walks near reservoirs or woods. There were several occasions on such days when I would become aware that I had lost my companion, with Richard to be found half-way up a bank examining mushrooms that he had seen. Richard was a keen mushroom forager, and he would use the produce found in his own risottos and similar dishes. However, Richard’s interest in plants extended way beyond fungi as any visitor to Richard and Angela’s home and garden could readily attest.

Latterly, Richard had plans for full retirement, including spending more time at a holiday home in Crete with Angela and their family. However, poor health affected Richard significantly in the last 1-2 years of his life, such issues being notable on a last holiday in Croatia in September 2018, and with heart failure being a central factor in his untimely death. Richard’s body is buried at the Humber Woodland of Remembrance in Leominster.

Alun Thomas
Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist
GMMH NHS Trust

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