Benjamin Leon GittelsonBMJ 2010; 340 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c3467 (Published 30 June 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3467
- John Salinsky
Benjamin Leon Gittelson (“Leon”) was born in London on 12 May 1940. He studied chemistry at St Peter’s College, Oxford (1959-63), and qualified in medicine at University College Hospital, London, in 1970. He died in Cape Town, South Africa on 2 February 2010 from pulmonary fibrosis and cardiac failure.
After postgraduate training at the Maudsley Hospital, London (1970-76), where he qualified with MRCPsych, Leon practised as a specialist psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Cape Town. In the 1980s he developed a special interest in criminal psychiatry and was valued for his opinions as an expert witness in homicide cases. In 1991 he returned to London and worked in the NHS at consultant level in adult and adolescent psychiatry, as well as further developing his legal work.
Leon had a warmth and directness that made him a natural psychotherapist. He was intensely interested in the details of people’s lives and had the gift of making people feel that they could unburden themselves to him. Rotund of figure, with a bald head and a long curly beard, he would greet his friends with possessive bear-hugs. He was impatient of any kind of superficial chat and in both professional and personal conversation always went straight to the heart of the matter with his questions. People he was introduced to would be swiftly interrogated about themselves. If they were initially disconcerted to be asked: “How is your love life?” they were soon telling Leon the full story. He was also able to empathise with severely disturbed offenders and to understand the personal suffering that lay behind their violent acts.
He coped with his final illness with courage and an obstinate determination not to give in. He went on doing medicolegal work in London until three months before his death, travelling to the courts in his wheelchair, and interviewing defendants in their cells with the aid of the continuous oxygen that kept him alive.
He was married first to Anne Beaton; they were divorced in 1970. He then married Miriam Shapiro, with whom he had two children. She sadly died a year before he did. He is survived by his third wife, Edwina; his children, Tamara and David; and two grandchildren.
Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c3467
Former forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist in private practice (b 1940; q University College Hospital, London, 1970; MRCPsych), died from pulmonary fibrosis and cardiac failure on 2 February 2010.