“My mate Louis” by Mick Thacker

Mick Thacker taken by Louis Gifford

Mick Thacker taken by Louis Gifford

Louis asked me to say a few words about him at his “do” last week. He gave me clear instructions to be honest, accurate and not to be too “nice”! Here is the gist of what I said, it was not intended to be exhaustive or for a physiotherapy audience but rather for his friends and family, I wanted to do him justice professionally straight from the heart and offer them an insight to the huge professional impact he made, who he was professionally and to demonstrate his brilliance and importance.

Louis started to train to be a physiotherapist in Sheffield in 1978. He had previously done a Zoology and Psychology degree and returned home from two years teaching in Sierra Leone. He secretly wanted to be like his dad, Vernon, a brilliant “hands on” physiotherapist. I loved how Louis talked about his dad, it always made his eyes sparkle just that little bit more, here is how he described him:

“His patients loved him. I came to realise that he was way ahead of his time – not only for his exceptional hands and ‘people’ skills but also for his diagnostic brilliance combined with his instinctive ability to instil physical confidence in his patients”.

My first thought on reading this was that it was about Louis, those of us who know him recognize him immediately in this description.

Louis wanted to be the best he could be – not to satisfy an ego, there wasn’t one! But so he could do the best for his patients whom he always saw as the focus whether teaching, writing or treating.

Inspired by Robbie Blake at college he wanted to be a manual therapist, he sought out and worked with the best the UK had to offer Paul Chadwick, Peter Wells and Agneta Lando amongst others. His quest to keep on improving led him to Adelaide to undertake the world renowned Graduate Diploma in Manual Therapy under the tutorage of Geoff Maitland. His year contained several notable classmates including David Butler and Mark Jones. Louis was the star pupil of his group, Geoff’s favourite and the only person he felt capable of following in his footsteps! Praise indeed.

Louis’ insightful thinking and skeptical nature meant that whilst he appreciated how much he was learning, something just wasn’t right, manual therapy applied to persistent pain patients didn’t make sense and wasn’t enough. He wasn’t seduced or limited by being a great manual therapist or by the best, it wasn’t working and he set about trying to find out why not.

He returned to the UK and set up practice at “home” with his partner and wife Philippa. He taught with David and their course became the thing of legend within the profession. Louis though was not happy with the direction that the courses were taking, they weren’t focused on the patient and their needs or answering the right sort of questions. On one of their trips Louis discovered Pat Wall’s work on neuropathic pain, here was something that made sense to him, that really helped him to understand some of the questions he had been asking himself and that patients demanded answering. He contacted Pat (the world’s foremost expert on pain) who offered to meet him for chat. Louis warmed to Pat immediately, a kindred spirit, both loved to smoke the occasional roll up and discuss science from the patient’s perspective. Louis was the first to suggest to him that pain was similar to memory, a topic he asked Steven Rose (the eminent memory scientist) to discuss with Louis. He was able to converse with the very best scientists because he understood and thought how they thought.

I got to know Pat well myself, which was not an easy task, as an iconoclast, he seldom referred to people with a depth of respect or passion, Louis was an exception, he asked me regularly how our friend in Cornwall was.

Here is Louis on Pat:

“Pat made you feel comfortable, he watched normal human life, he had the most likeable twinkle in his eyes that oozed rebellion”

I would suggest that we could swop Pat’s name for Louis’ and it would be a perfect description of him too!

Following his Master’s degree (Adelaide), Louis started to teach his Clinical Biology of Aches and Pains course. Finally he was teaching his own ideas, the ideas, which emanated from the best of current science and the questions patients asked in the clinic. The course was underpinned by an incredible wealth of support from the literature, Louis was a prolific and wide ranging reader, several authors owe him massive royalties for promoting their books! I loved exchanging books with him on every topic imaginable. He had an incredible ability to grasp the key messages and to assimilate them into his teaching and practice. I loved discussing things that came from his reading with him, our conversations were far reaching to say the least!

In the mid 90’s Louis was recruited by the Physiotherapy Pain Association (PPA), started by Heather Muncey, a star in her own right, the organization composed a handful of dedicated members. Louis and Philippa threw themselves into the support and promotion of PPA and were responsible for an exponential growth in its membership and they made sure all their professional contacts were fully exploited by the PPA also. It was an exciting time, refered to those of us involved as “The Physiotherapy Pain Revolution”. At the heart was Louis’ writing and his editing of the PPA newsletter and the publication of the Topical Issues in Pain books; presented as the PPA yearbooks the cost of publication and dissemination was underwritten by Louis and Philippa with no guarantee of success! The PPA continues to be a success today thanks to the energies of Louis et al from the early days.

Louis became and remains the most influential figure in the arena of pain and physiotherapy of his generation, his mature organism model revolutionised physiotherapy theory and practice and continues to influence the thinking of clinicians and scientists way beyond its’ intended audience.

His work was rightly recognised with a Fellowship of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, the highest professional award in the UK. This was followed by a Fellowship of the MACP – a double fellow no less.

I have great memories of our time teaching together, there are too many stories to relay here, including many of us questioning the sanity of what we were doing! My favourite was when he came and taught the undergraduates at St Georges, in the morning he was the supreme teacher, diligent and accurate and a lot more professional than I ever was! He realised this at lunchtime and told me he was going to relax in the afternoon, the session post lunch consisted of him recounting his LSD induced psychedelic experience at the Isle of Wight rock festival where he “saw” his hero Jimi Hendrix. Louis the professional and the rebellious – just as we all knew him! It was impossible for me to follow and whenever I bump into those students they always say what an amazing experience it was and how Louis was the best lecturer they ever had (thanks mate)!!

Louis pic - taken by Mick Thacker

Louis pic – taken by Mick Thacker

On a personal front, Louis and I became the best of mates, greatly at ease in each other’s company. Our names professionally linked through our teaching and writing together. I feel lucky, privileged and humbled to be mentioned together with him. He was the person from whom I would seek counsel in all aspects of life. He supported me from my early days, encouraging me to learn more and to follow my somewhat nerdy passion for the molecular aspects of pain; he challenged me and made me ask important and pertinent questions; lifted me when I found the occasional challenge daunting. I loved talking to him. Over the last few months I have had the amazing privilege to have proof read all 450 000 words of his new books. It is without exaggeration a masterpiece, it reignited my interest and passion for pain. We have had the most amazing discussions, allowing us the excuse to talk for hours at a time not just about the book but about life and his experiences, I will cherish these precious times forever. I loved him very much and will miss him more than words could ever describe.

The word great is over used today but Louis was a GREAT:

A great physiotherapist, writer and educator.

A great friend to many, many people.

A great brother to Adrian and Colin.

A great dad to Ralph and Jake who are the two loveliest young men I have ever met and whom we hope our sons grow up like!

A great husband –

To the other half of the team, Philippa, a force of nature!

Louis described her as “his rock” throughout their entire relationship; “no matter what Micky she always loves me”. Louis could not and would not have done it without you!

A great human – I think amongst all the great tributes and accolades that have been paid to Louis his greatest legacy is that patients all over the world are being treated more wisely and with more respect because of his ideas and teaching, both of which he gave freely and generously without a hint of self importance or ego. A truly great bloke!

14 thoughts on ““My mate Louis” by Mick Thacker

  1. A great tribute, Mick. I have been meaning to write something since hearing of Louis’s death, but haven’t been able to work out how to send a message! Although he wouldn’t have known me from Adam, since he must have met so many people, he was hugely influential and always had time for everyone. Please make sure this gets to Philippa and the boys who must miss him so much.
    I have been a physio for over 30 years and Louis has been a great influence on me. I loved his lectures and courses, trying to get my small brain to remember his many down-to-earth, sensible, logical explanations. So many things he would say related so clearly to my own patients – “ahh, yes!” I can remember thinking on many occasions.
    One thing I remember well was when he said that he had a budlea outside his treatment room window in Cornwall and he watched the butterflies when he was working. He travelled and mixed with the people at the forefront of physiotherapy and medical research, lecturing and writing, and then returned to his rural haven – and appreciated it! I wanted to be able to work in a lovely place too, and now I do, in the Forest of Dean. Summer days with my window open, hearing the birds outside remind me of him. How lucky we are to work in our profession and to enjoy our work with our patients at the same time as enjoying our world! Pip Deave

  2. Hi there, I have kept this blog in mind, and check it periodically. I was just wondering, and I don’t mean to be a pest – is there any word on the publication of Louis’ new book set? I am very much looking forward to it!

  3. So sad to hear about Louis’ death. Thank you for writing such a great tribute Mick. As one of those St George’s undergrads that you mentioned, I have great memories of him coming and teaching us

  4. Your tribute is perfect for what I know of the man – intelligence, empathy, handling skills – he was the best at all the profession had to offer – a brilliant manual therapist. Yet he changed the profession moving us forward because that wasn’t always enough. So many of us met him only once or twice but were better for it! You could always see how much Philippa and later the boys meant to him and I hope the love and respect felt for him will help at this awful time.

  5. A wonderful tribute to an extraordinary man! Anyone who ever had the privilege and pleasure to meet or know Louis will relate immediately to your eloquent words here Mick.
    A passionate, compassionate and beautiful eulogy, that truly reflects everything that Louis was.

    Best regards, Steve Robson

  6. Thanks Mick that was a wonderful eulogy for a special guy. I met Louis on several occasions but it was really good to learn so much more about him from the treasury of your deep friendship. Awesome!

  7. Pingback: "My mate Louis – by Mick Thacker" | Manuellterapeut Vegard Ølstørn

  8. Beautifully written. I only had the chance to meet Louis once briefly at the NOI conference in Nottingham, having read a lot (but by no means all) of his writings it was certainly anxiety provoking to have him in the front seat at a GMI workshop we did. His legacy will live on in the profession, and certainly the NOI uk courses continue to (re)expose participants to his immense contribution. Ben

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