Lives of the fellows

Samuel Morris Katz

b.5 August 1901 d.11 January 1990
MB BCh Liverp(1927) MRCP(1928) MD(1929) FRCP(1975)

Sam Katz was born in Lithuania but emigrated as a young child, with his family, to Johannesburg, South Africa, where his father had set up shop as a merchant. He, the youngest male of eight siblings, was the only one to whom a higher education could be given and after matriculation at Grey College, Bloemfontein, he began his medical studies at the University of Cape Town. Soon he moved, with several colleagues, to Liverpool, UK, where he completed his undergraduate studies. Having done his term as houseman he expressed an interest in psychiatry at that time considered, as he expressed it, ‘a smart and fashionable specialty*. However, after visits to mental hospitals the appeal of ‘arid institutional alienism’ declined and he decided to continue his studies in neurology and psychiatry in London.

In 1930 he returned to Johannesburg as a fledgling neuro-psychiatrist and was invited to join two other pioneers of this specialty, Alice Cox and Geerling, at the Johannesburg General Hospital, where he was a consultant to the general medical, surgical, obstetrical and gynaecological wards and other sub-specialties. The case material varied from acute and chronic psychiatric illnesses, minor or major, to stroke and cerebral tumour, and degenerative disorders of the nervous system. At the same time, he gradually built up an increasingly busy private practice, married Marjorie Shirley, and had two daughters. He was appointed consultant in neurology and psychiatry to the South African Railways and, during the war years from 1939-45, was consultant neurologist to the South African Defence Forces.

In the postwar years the psychiatric and neurological services at the Johannesburg General Hospital and medical school of the University of Witwatersrand were separated by virtue of the establishment of Tara Hospital as a distinct and solely psychiatric institution, dealing mainly with less severe psychiatric disorders. He moved, together with other members of staff, to Tara but with some trepidation as he felt that a division between the organic and non-organic manifestations of brain function was somewhat artificial. He remained senior consultant in neurology and psychiatry at Tara and Johannesburg Hospitals, and the medical school, until reaching retiring age.

As part of the teaching staff at the medical school, he was recognized as an exceptionally gifted clinical neurologist and bedside teacher. Known as ‘Uncle Sam’ he gave special ward rounds for aspiring neurologists and was a regular examiner in the University and the College of Medicine of South Africa, of those seeking qualifications as specialists in neurology and psychiatry. He always believed that psychology ‘is the most abstract of all the sciences . . . psychological formulations are little better than a parable or simile or metaphor and, since the expression of these formulations is dependent on language, psychology suffers more because of this than other natural sciences.’

As a neurologist he was a skilled diagnostician and always ready to do that which was possible for him. While he recognized what was irreversible, he would continue to seek whatever aids there might be for the care of his patients. He was never despondent with them, but ever encouraging.

Outside his work he had two other joys, his family and sport - of which he was an avid fan. He was honorary president of the rugby club at the University, an enthusiastic but below average golfer and a close follower of other sports. His pride in the achievements of his daughters and sons-in-law in their professions was unbounded; he was always there, ever supportive but never obtrusive.

His love of work extended beyond the time when he was active in practice. He continued to study assiduously, attended ward rounds and meetings, seeking in journals and books concepts which he felt would give more understanding to the relationship between mind and body. Most fittingly, he died when leaving the medical school library - where he had been to read some recent article at the age of 88 years.

B Goldberg

(Volume IX, page 288)

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