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obituaries: Dr Alice Roughton

Teresa Deutsch
Thursday 29 June 1995 00:02 BST

Alice Roughton was a psychiatrist, a medical campaigner, a pioneer in the movement against nuclear weapons and a conservationist.

The granddaughter of a German philanthropist and feminist, Evelyn von Oldenburg, she also numbered the Siemens engineering family among her forebears. Her father, Bertram Hopkinson, Professor of Engineering at Cambridge, died flying an experimental aeroplane in excessively low cloud.

One of seven daughters educated at St Leonards in St Andrews, at the age of seven Alice decided that her career was to be in medicine. Before the advent of the National Health Service (which she thoroughly endorsed) it was possible to combine a general practice with psychiatry, in which she qualified at Addenbrookes Hospital.

Alice Roughton, however, took her commitment to an extreme. If, in assessing prospective Borstal boys or dangerous psychotics, she found they didn't quite warrant incarceration, she brought them into her home. Long before R.D. Laing, she was literally living with her patients. Her motives were not theoretical, but humanistic: one woman she brought out of a locked ward and into her home had not seen grass for 17 years, despite having been in a mental asylum surrounded by countryside.

Her medical campaigning went beyond saving individual human lives. In 1951, convinced that nuclear weapons threatened the whole of humanity, she helped to found and went on to chair the Medical Association for the Prevention of War, becoming vice-president when it merged with the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons. Dr Alex Poteliakhoff, who worked with her there for many years, recalls her solidity as a supporter, her power as a campaigner, and her mass of illustrious contacts. Above all, she was ''a woman endowed with great common sense and intelligence, a lot of vision and a very effective speaker''.

Her views had their eclectic, not to say eccentric, aspects. Her radical politics in no way lessened her support of the House of Lords, where, when necessary, she put her lobbying skills to good effect - with the help of her friend Lord Silkin, she campaigned for the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act.

Alice Roughton treated everyone equally and was adored by patients, particularly as they were of a generation who looked upon doctors as godlike. Her practice had a slight air of the nursery, from where children could only be prised with difficulty, and the prescription pads might have to be rummaged for among the toys.

During the Second World War, her garden was turned into a farm, where she kept a fine herd of dairy cows, goats and pigs, and flocks of fowl. Without the slightest affectation, but with a touch of the grande dame, Roughton anticipated one after another contemporary ecological preference. ''Why on earth have a fridge," she said, "when you can use the dairy or the pantry for keeping food cool?'' The only safe meal to consume on the premises was breakfast: newly laid eggs and daily baked bread. Other meals often consisted of the more unusual parts of creatures reheated again and again. She had a a repugnance for waste which was stronger than that for week-old turkey-head soup.

The only thing she wasted - or at least spent with unbounded profligacy - was money. Having given away a not inconsiderable inheritance (she persuaded a Danish Resistance leader to relieve her of one family home), she then took to buying up cottages in danger of demolition around Cambridge for a few hundred pounds apiece, bestowing them on needy families ''to do up''.

A founder of the Civic Society in 1959, and on Cambridge city's listed buildings panel for many years, Roughton campaigned to save much of the city centre now gutted around the Market Square. Civic pride and a deep sense of the importance of conservation, largely foreign to the 1960s rush to ''progress'', informed a block-by-block (occasionally house-by- house) campaign to preserve her beloved city.

Roughton's aristocratic disdain for monetary matters was supposed to have derived from the English (Worsley) side of the family. Only two rules applied: money was vulgar and only a Worsley was good enough for a Worsley. Roughton scored twice, marrying her cousin, the future Professor of Colloid Sciences at Trinity, in 1925. He could ensure the bills were paid, and mitigate certain of her wilder generosities - though even he was unable to prevent the acquisition of an inordinate number of paintings whose deserving aspects seemed to outweigh artistic consideration.

But it was the people who filled the house more than their creations. It was almost possible to map the world's oppression through the refugees at her door. None was turned away; Arabs lived alongside Jews, anti-Communists from the former Soviet Union beside Latin American revolutionary militants. It was Roughton's earnest intention to see, even to prove, that of course peace is possible within humanity; that there were no political issues that couldn't be thrashed out around the fireside during ''open house'' every Sunday evening.

Of her grandfather, Alfred Hopkinson, it was said: "He was only a colonel but generals deferred to him." Alice Roughton showed her commitment to fight for peace on both a domestic and a global scale.

In May 1993 she suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered. Her daughter Rosemary astonished hospital staff and brought her home, where she nursed her until her quiet death. Alice Roughton's increasing dementia brought one benefit. Having become increasingly concerned that the world was not serious about learning from its belligerent history, she had become quite depressed. Her illness returned her to a simpler, more optimistic phase of her life, and her wide smile resumed its spontaneity.

Teresa Deutsch

Alice Isabella Hopkinson, medical practitioner: born Cambridge 21 February 1905; married 1925 Professor Francis Roughton (died 1972; one son, one daughter); died Cambridge 16 June 1995.

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