Lives of the fellows

Marie Mathieu Jean Raymond Garcin

b.21 September 1897 d.27 February 1971
MD Paris(1927) FRCP(1968)

Raymond Garcin was one of the outstanding figures in the neurology of France and by implication of the international scene. Born in 1897 at Basse-Pointe in the Caribbean island of Martinique, he proceeded at the age of 18 to Paris for his medical studies. After a brief spell in the Army he became a medical intern in 1923, docteur en Médecine in 1927, Médecin des Hôpitaux in 1930, and Professeur agrégé à la Faculté de Médecine in 1939. His early career as a consultant and teacher was associated with the Hospice Debrousse and the Hôpital Saint-Antoine for 2 years, and l’Hôtel-Dieu for four. His principal ties, however, were with the Salpêtrière where in 1948 he was officially nominated Médecin. Five years later he was appointed Professeur de Pathologie et Thérapeutique générales, and was accorded the privilege of a special service at the division Mazarin within that grey city of the Salpêtrière. Important influences had been those of Rademaker of Leyden, the venerable André-Thomas, and Ivan Bertrand. Chief among his counsellors, however, was Professor Guillain whom he had first met at the Charité, and whose charming daughter Yvonne he married.

Garcin’s first essay into the neurological literature was in 1927 when he published his Thèse de Paris wherein he described the clinical picture of complete one-sided cranial nerve-palsy, a rarity which became known as Garcin’s syndrome. This was but the first of a steady literary output. Neurologists in France are rarely reluctant to put pen to paper, and in this respect Garcin was not one to dally. We recall his clinical studies of thalamic lesions, and his monographs on the ataxias, central pain, involuntary movements, cerebral thrombophlebitis among others. Some of his papers were written in collaboration with his colleagues or assistants — Kipfer, Brion, Khochneviss, Man, Renard, Gruner, Guillaume, Pestel, Godlewski, Rondot, Oeconomos, Couteaux, and Lepresle. In France they still refer to Garcin’s sign, the "phenomenon of the hollow hand", a sensitive indicator of early involvement of the pyramidal system, as well as being evident in cases of chorea and athetosis (and incidentally of Parkinsonism too).

As a postgraduate teacher Garcin was a brilliant exponent with all the panache we expect of the French school of neurology. He was a direct successor in the professional sense to Charcot, Babinski, Brissaud, Pierre Marie, and Alajouanine. His techniques of instruction were emphatic and didactic, and unwittingly he followed the three-pronged attack expressed by Hilaire Belloc: "First I tell them what I am going to say: then I say it: and afterwards I tell them what it is I have just said". So popular was his teaching at the Salpêtrière, that on the opening of his new service his students installed upon the Professorial dais a prie-dieu, which he thereafter proudly utilized for eliciting his patients’ ankle-jerks.

Towards his patients he brought to bear something more than mere diagnostic skill. He was genuinely interested and kind, and he was always courteous - qualities to which the writer can testify from numerous consultative occasions. This delicacy was something he had inherited from his colonial forebears.

Garcin was famed internationally. He was the active Secretary-General of the 4th International Congress of Neurology, and was Vice-President of the World Federation of Neurology from 1961 to 1964. At home he was elected to high office in the Légion d’Honneur and to the Académie Nationale de Médecine. He was an honorary member of the neurological societies of most countries, and he was exceedingly proud of his recognition in Great Britain, as evidenced by his Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians and of the Royal Society of Medicine.

When the Charcot Chair of Neurology fell vacant in 1959 it was confidently expected in professional circles outside of France that he would be the successor. This was not to be, however; the departments became wholly re-organized, but a personal Chair of clinical neurology was specially created for him.

His last public appearance was at Munich in October 1970 when at a combined Franco-German neurological symposium he was awarded the Nonne gold medal, the supreme honour within the bestowal of that country.

The universal respect accorded to Raymond Garcin derived not only from his numerous and important researches in neurology, but from his qualities of character. His gifts transcended mere cleverness. He was the most friendly and approachable of men, generous, merry, warm-hearted, and hospitable to an exceptional degree.

Garcin was a member of a close-knit family and his native Martinique was never remote from his affections and his thoughts. Apart from his writings, he indulged his considerable talent as a water-colourist in his country retreat in Normandy.

To quote a tribute from a life-long colleague . . . "Raymond Garcin: loved by so many, respected by all. For one third of a century my dear friend. Controlling my emotion, may I depict him to you as though he were still with us, living among his family, his patients and his confrères at the Société de Neurologie which he had served so long? Even now we can imagine him joining us in our amphitheatre entering by that door on the right, and slowly descending the stairs, ponderous and slightly stooping, his features noble and his eyes gentle, clasping in friendship hands stretched out to him, before finally taking his place in the front row with all the modesty of a truly great man surrounded by his beloved pupils and ardent admirers".

Macdonald Critchley

[J. Neurol. Sci., 1971, 13, 503-505; Revue Neurologique, 1971, T. 124, 1, 380-384]

(Volume VI, page 189)

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