Dr Richard 'Dick' Mein 1927–2020

A tribute from his friends and colleagues.

It is with deep sadness that we acknowledge the gentle death of Dr Richard Mein, or Dick as he was affectionately known by most of us.

Dick had a very rich and meaningful life, before and after he became a Psychologist.

In early life, Dick trained to be a sub-lieutenant in the navy and captain of a motor torpedo boat, but did not get to see active service before World War II ended. He then had a brief career as a photographic clothes model.

After his military service, Dick decided to go to University College London to study Psychology.  He then went on to work in education, where he met his wife, Laura, and subsequently was attracted to working in Harperbury Hospital: a long-stay hospital predominantly for people we now describe as having learning disabilities, although the residents were considerably more diverse than that.

In his early days there, he undertook a PhD, supervised by the eminent Psychologist, Neil O’Connor at the Institute of Psychiatry. This focused on the language of developmentally delayed people in long stay hospitals. He published at least two papers, which continued to be cited until very recently. His PhD was later used as the empirical base for the development of the widely used sign language Makaton.

He spent the majority of his working life in Harperbury Hospital, although there was one critical time when he was asked to lead and develop the BBC’s new Audience Research Dept. He decided against that partly because he wanted to be close to his family – the journey into London would have consumed more time than he was prepared to give.

Within Harperbury Hospital he had respect for the challenges confronting colleagues and residents on a daily basis, and a natural respect for cultural and ethnic differences. He was extremely interested in improving the lives of residents as well as staff’s contributions and professionalism. He was instrumental in encouraging and leading important developments such as the Social Club for patients.

He, in turn, was greatly respected and trusted by colleagues of all professions, and was the Chair of the Hospital’s Senior Management Team during the 1980’s. He maintained his faith in the value of ‘communities’ such as this throughout, and continued to think of creative ways of maintaining its fundamental values whilst the population systematically moved ‘into the community’, and hospitals were closed down. 

During his time at Harperbury Hospital, Dick developed an early interest in the emerging profession of Clinical Psychology. Whilst developing his understanding of this relatively new profession, he demonstrated great skill in spotting talented people, as well as creativity in bringing them to work in his Dept in either a ‘clinical’ or ‘research’ capacity. He did this at a time when it was extremely difficult do so, as it was an unfashionable area of work. He also demonstrated equal skill and creativity in obtaining funding for posts to develop several innovative projects.

He was instrumental in helping Freda Levinson establish the North West Thames Regional In-Service Clinical Psychology Training Course, which was amongst the first in the country, and which subsequently amalgamated with the course at University College London in 1989.

During the development of the Psychology Department, Dick was confronted by several challenges. One of the significant ones was matching the skills of psychology staff to the needs of the ‘catchment’ local authorities that Harperbury Hospital served, and deploying staff to work ‘in the community’ to prevent unnecessary admissions to the hospital. This proved so valuable that it ultimately led to those local health services establishing their own ‘community teams’.

Another of his many challenges was guiding the emergence of Clinical Psychology out from under the direct instruction of the long-established Medical Consultants, into a profession in its own right. This challenged the existing power structure, and individuals within it. Yet he was clear that this was essential for Psychology and Psychiatry, and for genuine multi-disciplinary teamwork to develop; and through his thoughtful approach strong collaborative working relationships were ultimately established.

The respect for him, as a person, and for his contributions to the hospital, led to his being asked to provide regular advice and support in the development of Psychology Departments in the neighbouring Cell Barnes and Leavesden Hospitals.

He was greatly appreciated for his many personal qualities: his thoughtfulness, great warmth, genuine modesty, significant capacity to contain anxiety and distress, intelligence, celebration of cultural and ethnic diversity, encouragement of the development of people around him, enjoyment of collaborative inter-disciplinary working, mischievous sense of humour and wisdom. He was also appreciated for his generosity in sharing his thinking/wisdom with people working within his Department, the hospital, and still wider professional network; and his encouragement of any person who had good ethical ideas, or shared an interest in the unfashionable area of ‘mental handicap’ – a ‘diagnostic’ term which underwent more changes than any other during Dick’s working life.

He strongly supported the development of a therapeutic group within his department in the later 1970’s, and had the courage to participate in it. This group eventually brought about significant cohesion, and a further period of great professional as well as personal creativity and well-being for all members.

Another of his many remarkable attributes was his ability to monitor how well he himself was doing. When he noticed an unacceptable diminution in his enthusiasm or constructive contribution, he utilised those qualities in younger members of his Department to re-ignite his intellectual curiosity and extract himself from complacency.

When he finally retired in 1992, he provided counselling support to long stay hospital staff, as well as to people referred through Victim Support.

Outside of work, he was extremely proud of his daughter and two sons, and loved talking about them and their interests and achievements. He gained a lot from going back to visit relatives of his wife, Laura, in Ireland. He admired and immersed himself in the storytelling of these relatives, and spoke with such warmth about their value and importance, as well as the rugged beauty of the countryside.

On one very special occasion, he came to the office, shortly after his youngest, Jon, had obtained a job after completing his degree. Deep satisfaction and contentment emanated from every part of his being. And as he mused on the fact that all his children were in interesting jobs, he had us all thinking with his throwaway line: ‘It is so deeply satisfying that all our children have made a success of their lives, so far, despite our (Laura’s and my) best efforts!’

He enjoyed hosting New Year’s Eve parties at their home, and was extremely generous with his invitations. He loved playing the piano. He enjoyed cars and driving. He was fascinated by the latest technologies, and even more so when he thought they could add something of value to the work of the Department.

He was very active in his local community, and was proud of the work of the Rotary Club, and was a greatly valued Elder in his local Church.

So many people who went through his Dept went on to develop and lead Departments and Services in a wide range of settings and organisations, both in the UK and abroad. All remembered and acknowledged his significant contribution to their thinking, their development, and management ethos.

It is indicative of the esteem in which he was held, and the atmosphere he created, that several ‘old’ members of his Department returned for annual or bi-annual reunions at his home, until about 3 years ago.

He survived his wife, Laura, who died in 2006, and continued to lead a rich life to the end.

He leaves behind many saddened former colleagues and friends.

But above all, he leaves behind his beloved children, Gillian, Nicholas, Nicholas’ wife Thea, and Jon; two grandchildren, Rebecca and Oliver; and 2 great grandchildren, William & George.

It can truly be said that ‘this is the end of an era’.

- Dimitri Sklavounos, Wendy Brown, John Clibbens, Graham Fawcett, Dasa Rohelova, Roger Noble, Zenobia Nadirshaw, Chris Mawson, Maame Broad, Pete Barr, Richard Adams, Jim Foyle, Harry Davies, Ed Conduit & Margaret Cushen.



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