Lives of the fellows

Frank Forman

b.16 February 1898 d.9 March 1980
BA SAfr(1915) MB ChB Aberd(1922) MD(1932) MRCP(1932) FRCP(1942) Hon MCPSA(1970)

Frank Forman was born in Paarl, Cape Province, S Africa and had his schooling at the Paarl Gymnasium. He matriculated in 1916 with a first class pass, and was awarded the Gould Adams medals for top marks in the Union of S Africa in physics and mathematics.

As there was no medical school in S Africa at that time, he took a BA degree (majoring in anatomy and physiology) at the South African College, and then went to Aberdeen where he graduated with distinction from Marischal College, sharing the James Anderson gold medal in clinical medicine. He did his internships in Aberdeen and London and then, in 1923, returned to Cape Town, to the posts of lecturer in bacteriology and clinical tutor in medicine. These combined to make the first full time university clinical post in S Africa.

In 1932 he went to London for postgraduate study at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, and in the same year was awarded the MD (Aberdeen) for a thesis on pain. Later in 1932 he returned to Cape Town, to be appointed assistant to the professor of medicine (Falconer). In 1938, when Falconer became principal of the university, Forman was appointed professor of clinical medicine.

In 1954 he resigned his chair to become full time senior lecturer in the department of medicine, until he reached the age of compulsory retirement in 1963. Nevertheless he remained at Groote Schuur Hospital working full time as honorary consultant and lecturer in medicine until 1971, when he emigrated to Israel. There, he was appointed to an honorary consultantship in medicine, with part time teaching duties at the Tel Hashomer Hospital, Tel Aviv, a post which he held up to his death.

Frank Forman was an outstanding example of the general physician. Although neurology was a special interest, he was equally at home in all the branches of internal medicine. He devoted his whole attention to every patient and had an astonishing ‘case’ memory. Years after seeing a patient he could quote detailed points in the history or examination which illustrated some diagnostic principle. When reminiscing with past members of his staff he would frequently say ‘Do you remember Mrs B. 3rd on the left in D1..'.

Frankie, as he was affectionately nicknamed by his students, shone as a bedside teacher. His obvious sympathy and sincerity, his quiet dignity, his transparent honesty and modesty were examples to generations of medical students. These qualities, combined with his outstanding clinical skills, made him a legend in his lifetime.

It is surprising that despite his early promise in mathematics and physics, he showed little interest in either a numerical or technological approach to medicine. He made few research contributions, but went out of his way to support his juniors in research. In the late 1940s his departmental budget was minescule, and there was no laboratory or office, only a bench in a ward sideroom. He fought for and obtained a laboratory for his juniors and somehow provided money for equipment.

In 1934 he married Golda Selzer, a medical graduate of Cape Town University who became a distinguished pathologist. They had two sons, Arthur and Robert. The former became a theoretical chemist and the latter a cardiologist. Frankie was a keen gardener and usually wore a miniature rose in his buttonhole. He and Golda loved walking, especially on Table Mountain, and they knew all the many rare orchids that grew there, and their haunts. In Israel too he enjoyed walking, and despite his frail appearance, when over 70, he could still outpace men 50 years his junior in the desert heat.

Frankie had no thought of personal gain. Although as professor he was entitled to private practice, he never accepted a fee. His early retirement from the chair and later honorary work in S Africa and Israel were characteristic. In his last years he often visited Cape Town, and it was on his way back to Tel Aviv from one such visit that he developed a myocardial infarction and died soon afterwards in Israel, the country that he loved so well.

Sir Graham Bull

[, 1980, 280, 949, 1381; Lancet, 1980, 1, 834; Cape Argus SA, 15 May 1954, 6 Dec 1963; Cape Times SA, 28 Apr 1954; Friend SA, 7 Dec 1963]

(Volume VII, page 190)

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