Lives of the fellows

Montague Maizels

b.30 September 1899 d.10 February 1976
MRCS LRCP(1920) MB BS Lond(1922) MD(1923) MRCP(1925) FRCP(1941) FRS(1961)

Montague Maizels, affectionately known as ‘Monty’, was the youngest of four children and the only boy. His father, Joseph Maizels, was a silversmith who had emigrated from Prague and settled in London, and his mother, Deborah, was one of the nine children of Rabbi Nakum Lipman, a distinguished Hebrew scholar and teacher. Monty was born in London and spent most of his childhood in Whitechapel, close to the very successful jewellery business established by his father and mother. He was a sensitive boy and hated the period he spent at a boarding school in Bedford between the ages of 7 and 9 years. The rest of his schooldays were spent at the Davenant Foundation School close to his home, where he made good progress and formed stimulating friendships. Among his school friends was Samson Wright, who was destined to become not only a renowned professor of physiology at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School but also the husband of his sister Miriam. Two of his cousins, Walter Levitt and BS Nisse, were doctors.

Shortly after his seventeenth birthday he entered University College to study medicine, transferring to Guy’s Hospital Medical School for his clinical training in 1917. He had a distinguished undergraduate career, being awarded the Beaney prize for pathology in 1919 and the Treasurers’ medal for medicine the following year. He qualified in 1920, and in 1922 graduated MB BS with a distinction in medicine. He became house surgeon, house physician and medical registrar at his teaching hospital, and obtained his MD in 1923.

His scientific inclinations led to his being drawn towards laboratory work, and while at Guy’s he also held demonstratorships in the departments of pathology and physiology. It was during this period that he first embarked on studies of the chemical basis of the biophysical properties of the erythrocyte, which became his life-long research interest. In 1928 Monty was appointed clinical pathologist to the Infants’ Hospital, Westminster, and there made detailed studies of the acid-base and electrolyte disturbances that accompany diarrhoea and vomiting in infancy; his findings led to considerable improvement in the management of infantile diarrhoea and congenital pyloric stenosis.

In 1931 he was appointed clinical pathologist to University College Hospital where, in addition to responsibility for all routine laboratory investigations, he assumed a teaching commitment. He continued to make time for research, and carried out fundamental work on erythrocyte metabolism which had important implications for the development of techniques for the storage of blood for transfusion purposes. He was the first to show that a slightly acid medium favours red cell preservation, and he directed attention to the importance of glucose for the same purpose. He was also the first person to follow in vivo the chemical changes that take place in stored red cells after transfusion. Because of his expertise he was called upon to set up the Emergency Blood Transfusion Depot at Maidstone before the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. He directed all work there until 1945, and studied various practical problems that arose from the use of stored blood.

Monty’s return to University College Hospital after the war coincided with an explosive growth in the demand for pathology investigations of all kinds, and he delegated responsibility for the day-to-day running of the routine microbiology and chemical pathology services, so that he could concentrate on haematology and maintain the impetus of his research. His experimental work on the transport of ions across the red cell membrane was prosecuted with the utmost vigour, in a tiny laboratory with most meagre resources. Throughout his career a steady stream of papers resulted from his investigative work, many being published in the Biochemical Journal, the Lancet, the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Physiology and the Journal of Physiology.

In recognition of his contributions to the advancement of pathology he was appointed to a readership in clinical pathology in the medical school shortly after his return, after the war, and promotion to a professorship followed in 1951. He had been made FRCP in 1941 but what naturally gave him the greatest satisfaction was his election to the fellowship of the Royal Society in 1961.

As a researcher Monty was completely absorbed in his work, and when he retired in 1964 he managed to persuade his friend Sir Bernard Katz to provide him with a laboratory in the department of biophysics at University College, where he carried on working for another 10 years. Only those privileged to have been his research assistant know how hard he worked, and how able he was both intellectually and technically. His experiments were meticulously planned, and executed with remarkable precision, using the simplest of apparatus, often home-made. Results were always critically reviewed, and only when he was satisfied that they were completely reproducible would conclusions be drawn. His mind was always ahead of that of his young collaborators, and none could compete with him when it came to performing mental arithmetic.

Monty was an excellent and popular teacher. He prepared his lectures on his portable typewriter but when he delivered them they were enriched by never-to-be-forgotten stories. In the laboratory he gave demonstrations and tutorials to small groups of students, giving them an insight into what was involved when even a simple investigation was requested. His postgraduate trainees were encouraged to learn by practice rather than by reading, and were taught to become critical and self-reliant. As a man Monty was modest and retiring. He despised lifemanship and unnecessary fuss and regarded administrative duties as a chore. Despite his friendly manner he shunned congresses and social occasions. He had a marvellous sense of humour but when roused could be formidable.

He was widely read, enjoyed poetry, and got great pleasure from using an apt word or phrase. He had a wonderful memory which enabled him to quote long passages from the scriptures learnt in his childhood. He took a deep personal interest in his staff and acted as counsellor and friend to all of them. He had a great feeling of compassion towards the less fortunate members of society, and anyone who was a refugee or who had a physical handicap was sure of being given a helping hand. He had no real hobby but he enjoyed his pipe, classical music and English ballads and, in his younger days, walking in the Lake District and Wales.

He first met Dulcie, the daughter of John William Speight, a Yorkshire farmer, when on holiday in 1937 on the Sussex coast, only to discover later that she was a staff nurse at University College Hospital. They married the following year and lived in Hampstead. During the war Dulcie Maizels took an active part in the work at the Maidstone Blood Transfusion Depot, but on their return to London she devoted herself to providing Monty with a comfortable home, which meant a great deal to him. They had one daughter, Judith, who was born in 1947.

FV Flynn

[Biogr.Mem.Roy.Soc., 1977, 23, 345-366; Lancet, 1976, 1, 548;, 1976, 1, 842; Times, 25 Feb 1976]

(Volume VII, page 372)

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