I interviewed Dr Neville Davis for the JC some three years ago, after being told I ought to meet “the oldest working doctor in the UK” — still working as a forensic expert at the age of 94.
Later I invited him onto my TV programme, Extraordinary People, on Brighton’s Latest TV channel. It was obvious that Dr Davis was an extraordinary man, not just because of his remarkable career and medical achievements, but also because of his wit, interests, undiminished ambition, warmth and charm.
Although Neville was a nonagenarian he was no “little old man”. I would pop over to his house for coffee and we would chat about many subjects — he was always informed, interested, engaged and engaging.
He was very modern in outlook and keen to develop his knowledge and skills. In fact, one of the things that saddened him when he became ill was that he had to turn down an interesting job.
I was particularly impressed by his fearless attitude towards technology. He set up his Alexa to control the lighting in his home, exclaiming: “Alexa, dim the lights!” Another day he declared he had “had enough of the PC, I am moving to Apple”.
Neville and I became good friends and I also realised that my being Jewish was important to our friendship. Although Neville was not religious his Jewish identity was important to him.
He often told me about his parents, who came to the UK from Minsk at the turn of the century.
His father was senior warden at the North London Synagogue in Islington and Neville fondly remembered Seder nights with 30 or more family members, and also had vivid memories of his barmitzvah.
He was concerned about growing antisemitism, used the odd Yiddish word and reminisced about Whittingehame College, the Jewish boys’ school in Brighton he attended and held in such high regard.
It was there that his medical career was conceived, after Whittingehame’s headmaster, Jake Halevi, told the young Neville, then contemplating studying law at university, that the country in those difficult times (1939) needed doctors — and Neville obliged. He told me he owed not just his career to Halevi, the College had also instilled excellent values in him that he cherished throughout his life.
Dr Neville Davis receiving his MBE from Prince Charles in 2000
As a GP Neville was keen to expand to other health professional areas and turned to occupational medicine, becoming involved in health in the workplace, including at British Gas, the National Institute for Medical Research and local authorities. He was very interested in clinical forensic medicine and worked for the Metropolitan Police, too.
He was instrumental in establishing the clinical forensic medicine section at the Royal Society of Medicine. He was also vice-president of the Royal Society and was made an MBE in 2000 for services to the profession.
A few weeks before his death, aged 97, Neville asked me to conduct his funeral when the time would come. I was honoured to have been asked.
He did not opt for a Jewish funeral but asked me to talk about his Jewish identity. He was proud that his son Fabian, would recite the Kaddish, a particularly emotional part of the funeral.
“People should try to make this world a better place,” Neville used to emphasise.
Well Dr Neville Davis certainly did make this world a better place, and I miss my extraordinary friend very much.
Neville’s beloved wife of 44 years, Kathryn, died in January 2021. He is survived by his son and daughter, Fabian and Caroline, from his first marriage to Beulah, and his two stepdaughters Linda and Deborah.
Dr Neville Davis: born February 11, 1925. Died October 5, 2022.