Professor Lionel Fry,OBE

Influential, leading dermatologist who saw links between the skin and the gut


The leading dermatologist Professor Lionel Fry, who has died aged 87, wrote widely on his subject, and two of his books, An Atlas of Dermatology and Dermatology: An Illustrated Guide, became the principal reference books used throughout the medical profession.

In addition to his 30 years as Consultant at St Mary’s Hospital and Professor of Dermatology at Imperial College, he set up a thriving research department, leading to new treatments for psoriasis and dermatitis herpetiformis in particular.

He retired from his private practice in 2018, frustrated by increased bureaucracy imposed on doctors by successive governments. A practitioner of the old school, his level of courtesy and conversation was particularly appreciated by his older patients .

Lionel Fry was born in Croydon in 1933 where his father was a GP. His parents Ansel (né Freitag) and Basia (née Mincman) had emigrated from Lublin, Poland, in the late 1920s. Lionel was the youngest of their three children. The family made one return trip to Lublin in 1938, the only time Lionel met his grandparents and large wider family. Most of the family perished in the Holocaust. Lionel, together with his mother and sister Margaret, were evacuated during the war, first to Devon and then to Sussex (where, 35 years later he purchased the evacuation home) although they spent most of the war in Croydon, “living with the bombs”.

He married the South African painter Minne Zidel after meeting her as a 15 year old at Croydon Habonim, during her father’s sabbatical medical placement from their native South Africa. They continued a five-year relationship by letter once her family had returned home. After Minne visited London on a trip to Europe with her university, Lionel made a trip to Johannesburg to propose. They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary last November, as devoted to each other as they had been during the 1950s.

Fry studied medicine at King’s College Hospital, but resisting the urge to join his father and older brother John, both distinguished GPs, he opted for hospital work, instead, as was the case with his sister Margaret (my wife), a leading physiotherapist.

He chose dermatology and retained an interest in gastroenterology, as indicated by his influential book, The Gut and the Skin, and ten other relevant volumes. Dermatology: An Illustrated Guide, is the principal reference book used by GPs and medical students for which Lionel took more than 100 photographs.

His research attracted more than 30 grants, from the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust among them. He was the first to show that dermatitis herpetiformis, a rare but persistent skin disease, was associated with coeliac disease and could be healed by a gluten-free diet. Through his research into psoriasis, he established links with scientists in Dublin, Geneva and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. He received the two highest accolades in dermatology: the Sir Archibald Gray Medal and the British Society for Investigative Dermatology Medal for ‘distinguished service to dermatological research’.

Lionel’s main interests throughout his life were medicine and his family. He loved watching rugby (having played scrum half for his school) and sometimes football — he was delighted when his granddaughter Daisy became an Arsenal fan. He played squash and tennis weekly for many years, and was a keen swimmer.

Lionel was delightful company, with a wry sense of humour and a keen interest in the success of those he had trained and his colleagues. He and Minne hosted frequent dinner parties at their house in Dulwich, and then Bayswater. He was proud of his Jewish heritage and was a long-term member of West London Synagogue. The wartime experience and the Holocaust impacted throughout his life and he generously supported Jewish and Israeli causes.

Lionel is survived by Minne, their children, Michael, Tessa and Katherine, daughter-in-law Rachel Levene and grandchildren, Zachary and Daisy.

Martin Polden, OBE

Professor Lionel Fry: OBE, born March 19, 1933. Died January 11, 2021

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