Lives of the fellows

Hymie Gordon

b.20 September 1926 d.5 February 1995
BSc Cape Town(1946) BM BCh(1950) MD(1958) MRCP(1959) FRCP(1976)

Hymie Gordon was born in Mowbray, Cape Province, South Africa, the son of a Jewish rabbi. He studied medicine at the University of Cape Town and was awarded a degree as doctor of medicine in 1958. He served as resident medical officer in Natal and Durban before going to Groote Schuur Hospital as senior medical registrar. Between 1956 and 1959 he was a fellow at the department of cardiology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School and the Hammersmith Hospital. In the two subsequent years he worked as an assistant physician in medicine and instructor in biostatistics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the USA. On returning to South Africa in 1961 he became a senior lecturer in the department of medicine at the University of Cape Town and senior physician in the Groote Schuur Hospital. Among other duties he established a comprehensive care clinic and a genetics teaching and research programme at the University of Cape Town. In May 1969 he returned to the United States, joining the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota as a member of the division of community medicine and establishing the department of medical genetics. He later became the first chair of the department in 1972 and was appointed professor of medical genetics in 1974.

Following his distinguished career at Mayo he ‘retired’ from active clinical practice but maintained an ongoing commitment to teaching medical history. Recognized as a lecturer of exceptional ability, his presentations were a favourite of students, residents and fellows, as well as faculty colleagues. His extraordinary intellect and breadth of knowledge also led to his being highly sought after all over the world as a lecturer on a broad range of topics including medicine, genetics, ethics, in addition to medical and Jewish history. Among his many invitations as a lecturer were presentations at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, the University of Padua, Oxford University and the Sorbonne in Paris. He was fluent in Hebrew, English, Afrikaans, Latin and Greek. Among his lectures were a series of sixty spread over three years on the history of man and medicine. This was, in a sense, a summation of his views on the interrelations between advances in knowledge and the impact of such progress on human beings. An ardent pro-life leader he was also co-founder, and for eight years co-chair, of the programme in human rights and medicine at the University of Minnesota.

Hymie Gordon was not only an extraordinary intellectual, a highly sensitive caring physician, but a wonderful human being who enjoyed life to the fullest. He travelled widely to expand his knowledge in the arts and sciences. He died suddenly in February 1995 in Cape Town, South Africa, and was buried in Jerusalem, with later memorial services at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota.

Robert L Frye

(Volume X, page 170)

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