Lives of the fellows

George Marcus Komrower

b.31 Dec 1911 d.11 Dec 1989
TD(1945) MRCS LRCP(1937) MB BCh Manch(1936) MRCP(1939)FRCP(1957)Hon MA Manch(1974)

George Komrower was born and lived most of his life in Manchester. He came from a family well established there in the last century; his father, William, having been a cotton merchant. After going to Manchester Grammar School with an honorary foundation scholarship, he entered Manchester University medical school. He was always good at games. He played rugby football for his school and university and, later, for Lancashire County. He also did well in athletics, holding the Manchester University record for the 100-yards for several years and representing the University Athletic Union. He never lost his interest in sports but his success in this field was not confined to his physical ability. Early in his career he showed powers of leadership and judgement which served him well throughout his life. He became captain of his school rugby football club, captain and later president of the Manchester University football club, and captain of the University Athletic Union. He was also a member of the Lancashire County rugby football union selection committee.

After graduation, he moved through junior posts in the Manchester Royal Infirmary up to chief assistant before joining the Army at the outbreak of war. He served abroad in Egypt, Italy and Germany, being promoted to lieutenant colonel and having charge of the medical division of a British general hospital for two years. On demobilization in 1945 he was awarded the Territorial Decoration. That same year, while on leave, he met Shirley Eadon, the elegant daughter of an estate manager in Kent, and they married after a two month’s courtship. She was his constant support throughout his career, while having her own interests in that she was a JP and member of the National Parole Board. They had no children.

After a period in Birmingham, and abroad as a Nuffield medical fellow, George was appointed consultant paediatrician to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital in 1947, and to St Mary’s Hospital in 1948, becoming honorary lecturer in child health and paediatrics in Manchester University in 1951. He continued to run a highly competent paediatric service until his retirement in 1976. These were times of development and expansion and George was one of those who brought new dimensions of research and innovation into what was then a relatively under-developed field.

He soon showed his interest in endocrinology, particularly in metabolic work, and embarked upon clinical projects. An outstanding contribution was made together with his colleagues Aron Holzel [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.274], Victor Schwarz and Vera Wilson; in galactosaemia, they devised the first specific diagnostic test for the condition and extended considerably the understanding of the abnormal metabolism. George was primarily responsible for the clinical aspects and for the introduction of the dietary management which resulted in a much better prognosis, as shown in his published results of long term follow-up studies.

Having established an international reputation in this particular field despite limited resources, he then took steps to obtain funds for the expansion of the metabolic endocrine services in the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital at Pendlebury. He achieved this by getting support from industry, a way unusual in this country at that time. In 1961, as a result of his initiative, a mental retardation research unit was set up, this later became the ‘Willink’ unit and George was appointed the first director.

Using the Willink laboratory, with the help of a grant from the Wellcome Trust he set up, in the ’60s a screening project in Salford for the recognition of infants with certain inborn metabolic abnormalities, particularly those involving amino-acids. This was primarily aimed at the early detection of phenylketonuria but used the Scriver method which also revealed other similar conditions. This screening project was the first of any type to be carried out in the United Kingdom and successfully demonstrated the practicability in this country of screening the newborn. George became a member of the Medical Research Council working party on phenylketonuria which, on the basis of his pilot study, made recommendations following which the Department of Health issued a directive to the regions on the introduction of screening tests. His laboratory at Pendlebury became the regional amino-acid reference laboratory and, in addition, provided a supra-regional service in a number of other similar fields. He also established a service at Pendlebury for management of dietary and other problems faced by the families of the children found by the screening procedure.

This pioneering work in the screening of the newborn, and the continuing routine screening service, required a good deal of propaganda, persuasion and organization. He realized the importance of maintaining the interest of all concerned by keeping them informed. For example he used to go and meet health visitors collecting samples and exchange views with them. He gave many invited lectures abroad and in the UK. He was presented with a gold medal and plaque from the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital for his work in galactosaemia. He was visiting professor in the United States and elsewhere, and received an honorary MA from Manchester University in 1974. Locally, he was president of Manchester Paediatric Club and of the section of paediatrics of the Manchester Medical Society. He was also president of the Research Trust for Metabolic Disease in Childhood, a national organization formed in 1981, which since his death has set up the Komrower Fellowship for supporting the training of paediatricians specializing in metabolic medicine.

For many years George had an influential voice in paediatrics at national level. He served on the council of the British Paediatric Association from 1960-63, only six years after being elected to membership, was treasurer from 1975-78 and president from 1979-82. This was a time when some paediatricians wanted an independent College of Paediatrics. George was always opposed to the separation of paediatrics from general medicine and he was the first president to serve on the newly formed joint paediatric committee of the Royal College of Physicians and the British Paediatric Association. He strongly supported this link which he hoped would strengthen the voice of children through those who served them, and he spoke well and persuasively on their behalf. He gave lectures and wrote on the organization of paediatric services in this country, and was in favour of an integrated children’s health service. In the ’70s, he was elected chairman of his regional hospital authority’s paediatric advisory panel but despite much support from clinical colleagues he resigned, believing it to be a waste of time.

Those aspects of his personality which served him well in medicine, together with his discriminating judgement, also gave him a useful part to play outside his profession. He had come from a well known Jewish family in Manchester who, while not being of the strict orthodox community, had largely kept within the bounds of their tradition and culture. George and his two brothers were quietly proud of their ancestry but took the family into a broader social field. They were, for example, probably the first Jewish members to represent their county at rugby football. His sporting activities inevitably carried George into a far wider circle and he later took part in many cultural aspects of Manchester life. He was for many years a member of the council of the Hallé Concert Society and a governor of Manchester Grammar School. He was also a founder member of the Royal Exchange Theatre.

On a personal level, George was friendly and approachable. His professional contacts with colleagues in this country and abroad tended to become lifelong friendships. Both patients and parents liked him, and many organized a large retirement party and presentation for him. He had little time for colleagues whom he thought were incompetent but gave full and generous support to juniors, whether in his own team or not, whom he felt to merit it. He was always ready to discuss problems, whether clinical or personal, with all his colleagues and his juniors. He had a genuine personal involvement when discussing career paths that a junior might adopt and many remember him with affection. In committee work he had an ability to see the crux of a problem and expressed his views strongly, but with a wit and puckish humour which made him great fun at meetings. The presenter at his honorary degree ceremony said he was ‘... tough with colleagues but tender with children.’

George was plagued with gout throughout his working life which, apart from the first few years, was well controlled though it did mean that he needed to use a chair during longer clinical examinations. But he was not well pleased when a misunderstanding led to the offer of a wheelchair. In his later years he suffered from Parkinsonism, which he did not allow to interfere with his activities although the associated insomnia gave him a great deal of trouble. He faced it all with the impressive courage familiar to those who knew him. G H Watson

[Brit.med.J., 1990,300,324; The Lancet, 1990,335,404;The Daily Telegraph, 23 Jan 1990; The Guardian, 24 Jan 1990;Photo]

(Volume IX, page 297)

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