Lives of the fellows

Israel Gordon

b.12 August 1907 d.5 December 1991
MB ChB Edin(1931) DPH(1934) MD(1935) MRCP(1942) FRCP(1972) FFCM(1972)

Israel Gordon was born in Jerusalem at the beginning of the twentieth century, the son of Wolf Gordon, a stockbroker, ana his wife Tilly Silverman. The family emigrated to South Africa and Israel’s early education was in Rondebosch and Pretoria Boy’s High School. He subsequently entered the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, to study medicine. He obtained his DPH in 1934 and decided on a career in public health. After junior appointments in Scotland, Huddersfield and Surrey, he started in Ilford as assistant MOH in 1937 and continued to work there until 1965 when he retired as MOH for Redbridge, the successor London borough, in 1972 - some 35 years later. He obtained his membership of the College in 1942 but had to wait 30 years for the Fellowship, probably for two related reasons: the remoteness of public health from the main stream of medicine which hopefully is a thing of the past and his own remoteness, job wise, in outer London.

Israel was an extraordinary MOH. His interests ranged widely and during the second world war, as a major in the RAMC from 1942-45, he served in Africa and wrote on DDT toxicity, developing a spray gun to control mosquitoes. After his return to England he invented ‘a hygienic dining fork’ which he described in The Lancet Alas, it still awaits commercial development. Many of his interests lay outside the range of public health: his MD thesis was on ‘vibration sense’ and in 1949 he published a paper in The Lancet on the biology of the placenta which was updated in Nature in 1960. He was also deeply interested in atherosclerosis and heart disease. His spiritual home was the library of the Royal Society of Medicine, where he seemed to be a permanent fixture. All this was not, however, a form of escapism from his ‘proper job’. As MOH he was respected and trusted more than most, indeed the services that he developed during that continuous period of 35 years -such as child guidance, services for the mentally handicapped and family planning - were models of their kind. Junior posts in Ilford and Redbridge were much in demand and Israel was a great and kindly proponent of what is now described as ‘career development’. Undoubtedly Israel Gordon could have proceeded to a higher level in public health but possibly he regarded the environment in which he had worked for so long as one where he could exert his personal influence for the full benefit of the community. Behind his political’ successes lay an intimate knowledge of his population and its environment.

Israel was a genial person, a good conversationalist and a keen photographer. He enjoyed walking and liked to explore London. He also liked the theatre and good food. After retirement he moved to Blakemere, Herefordshire, with his wife Vroni née Koerner and their daughter Joanne. But he never really gave up working; he founded a day centre for the handicapped in Kington - and it is still going strong.

W G Harding

[Brit.med.J., 1992,304,773; The Independent, 28 Dec 1991]

(Volume IX, page 203)

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