Dr James E. Miles 1928-2006

Jim Miles was a wonderful man—warm-hearted, decent, and kind. He was flamboyant, tall, and celery thin with a generous nose and luminous eyes. The gold of his charisma and exuberance was balanced by the rubies and steel of his adored wife, Gail, of whom he was deeply proud. They had a flock of darling children. With Gail at his side and the sunny optimism of his mother incarnate, Jim was primed for success.

Jim was a romantic and an Anglophile who would have relished Paul Johnson’s essays in the Spectator. Johnson wrote recently: “The most valuable people on earth are those who can make you laugh. Laughter is the great restorative and rejuvenator.” Jim had the gift of humor. Freud, whose name means “joy”(a laugh for a start) said that humor is the most sublime of the defences. It is a sexy and attractive talent that springs from intelligence, creativity, and a sharp eye for reality, “making the implicit explicit,” said Jim. He used it to explode tension and to pump some oxygen into the chloroform torpor of most medical meetings. Occasionally, thank heavens, he almost breached the canons of good taste: who else would dare introduce to a congregation of the drowsy an Adonis-like colleague as “the erotic fantasy of every Shaughnessy matron”?

Humor never hid his excellent education and very high intellectual calibre or his ability to create innovations in psychiatric care and buff them to a high shine. It made him an excellent teacher with his memorable aphorisms. Jim agreed with Sydney Smith that “praise is the best diet for us after all,” and his appreciative letters after a good presentation or publication were cherished by his staff. He knew the value of creative criticism and held that the need to atone for unconscious guilt lashes one on to practise medicine and that medical students’ self-criticisms stopped them from accepting a compliment. However, after a criticism, a portal opens through which one can ladle praise.

As a clinician, Jim had no stomach for the robotic taciturnity of the poseur and was excellent at using himself, “the drug ‘doctor’” as Dr Michael Balint called it, to treat his patients. A dash of melancholy made him a great empathic psychotherapist who, unseen by his patients, often brushed away a tear. He was deeply impressed by the tragedies of divorce and mental illness and by the courage of so-called “neurotics” (you and me) in adapting to misfortune and changing our lives. He kept an old Roman coin in his wallet to remind himself of the transience of suffering and fame.

His kindnesses were many and usually his left hand never knew what his right hand was doing. Some kindnesses were sublime, like telling a frightened woman to slip into his sleeping bag at a riotous party and promising that nothing would happen. It didn’t. Once, having too little cash, he promised a waiter that he’d return after betting at the races the tip he intended to give to him. He returned with $70.

Jim named his terrier puppy “Nelson” after England’s greatest naval hero, although, of course, the resemblance was feeble. “Oh God,” I once heard him cry over the telephone, “the dog’s got my deaf aid.” Jim had the courage of the little white-haired vice-admiral. In a minor way, he dared to scoff at the sacred cows of medicine like “alternative” medicine and the insolent burden of the Continuing Medical Education Program. In a larger way, just as Nelson suffered from melancholy and malaria, was a martyr to mal de mer, was blind in one eye, and only had one arm but battled on, so Jim had a fierce courage in battling on, despite several grim illnesses.

Jim’s company was always so interesting and enjoyable. He was a lovely man.

—Christopher Morrant, MBBS

Christopher Morrant, MBBS,. Dr James E. Miles 1928-2006. BCMJ, Vol. 49, No. 1, January, February, 2007, Page(s) 19 - Obituaries.

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