Lives of the fellows

Harry Greenburgh

b.28 June 1917 d.28 March 1985
MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS Lond(1939) MRCP(1952) MD(1952) MRCPath(1963) FRCPath(1966) FRCP(1973)

Harry Greenburgh was a Devonshire man, being born at Devonport where he was also educated. He qualified in medicine from Guy’s Hospital, London, at the early age of 21. After house appointments at Guy’s, the East Sussex Hospital, Ipswich, and the Royal United Hospital, Bath, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and was wounded on active service. He spent the remainder of the war in South Africa, with the rank of squadron leader. Demobilized in 1946, Harry elected to specialize in pathology. After a brief spell in Plymouth as clinical assistant at the South Devon Hospital, he returned to Guy’s as chief assistant in clinical pathology, taking his London MD and MRCP. In 1954 he retraced his steps to Plymouth to become consultant haematologist to the district, a post he held until his enforced retirement due to a massive coronary occlusion in 1981.

Harry had a deep-seated concern for his fellows and was always willing to give unobtrusive service to others. Blessed with a deliciously robust sense of humour, and a capacity to see and to absolve all traces of human frailty, he was rarely at a loss to cap a story and join in the appreciative chuckles. Fundamentally his was a retiring mien and to many of his colleagues he remained a stranger; partly this could be traced to his choice of the burgeoning specialty of haematology, of which he was obliged to remain a lonely exponent in Plymouth for almost two decades. At last, in the ’70s, he was joined by a colleague of comparable experience, and his detailed grasp of the intricacies of his subject blossomed as he was able to share the demands of departmental administration: now he could enjoy his gifts for clinical observation and diagnosis and shed the sense of isolation that could so easily have marred his professional contributions.

Outside medicine, Harry’s strong sense of family made him a tower of strength to the many who sought his advice and help; for some of whom he went to quite extraordinary lengths to ameliorate quite dauntingly intractable family complications. In 1971 he married Helen Rindl, daughter of a South African professor of chemistry, whom he had known from his earlier visits to South Africa. This truly devoted partnership gave to Harry, until then a confirmed bachelor, the care and affection that were to be so important during his last clouded years, when both health and resilience tended to desert him.

Apart from his congregational commitments, Harry was a keen fisherman, a shrewd and knowledgeable philatelist and a connoisseur of fine things, including carpentry and furniture making. He had a gourmet’s discernment of the more important things in life. His scientific motivation may occasionally have bordered on the obsessional, but this reflected the integrity that he valued above all else. He never consciously sought to give offence or to cause humiliation; he did his best for others and was unfailingly loyal to his own staff. Until his ultimate myocardial ischaemia he enjoyed good health, taking part in both district and regional advisory functions in his specialty, and for more than a decade acting as indefatigable secretary to the division of pathology. Were he to catch a glimpse of this description of him as a slightly skew cross between the Archangel Gabriel and St Francis of Assisi, Harry Greenburgh would disappear behind a cloud of mischievous laughter, perhaps proferring a mild extenuation of the solecisms but. ever the gentleman, wishing not to criticize. That is how his friends will remember him: in the old-fashioned sense of the word, a gentleman.

GR Steed

[Brit.med.J., 1985,290,1436]

(Volume VIII, page 196)

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