Lives of the fellows

Edouard Rist

b.16 March 1871 d.13 April 1956
DSM(1919) DM Paris(1898) Hon Docteur Prague( ) Hon MA Michigan(1917) *FRCP(1940)

Dr Edouard Rist was born at Strasbourg and came from a professional family. His father, Adrien Rist, was a doctor whose main interest was mental disorders, especially in patients with tuberculosis. His mother’s name before marriage was Cornelie Gess.

Edouard and his famous economist brother, Charles, left Alsace to keep their French nationality and went to school at the College Gaillard in Lausanne, where he learnt English which he spoke quite perfectly and often very wittily. His German was equally fluent. His great gift for languages played an important part in his life and work.

At the age of fifteen he went to the Lycée of Louis le Grand in Paris and in due time was made interne. Shortly after, he was sent to Egypt where he made a study of B. pestis, and was put in charge of the sanitary services to combat the plague. On the way, in a boat laden with pilgrims from Mozambique to Mecca, he was shipwrecked. Returning to Paris in 1900 he became chef de laboratoire at the Trousseau Hospital. In 1905 he was successful in the Concours des Hopitaux and had the good fortune to have Béclére as a colleague. At this time Béclére was developing the use of the X-ray screen in lung and heart disease. It was only many years later that other countries did the same. Before he took over the tuberculosis wards at the Laennec Hospital in 1910 he had already published over forty papers on original subjects, especially the study of anaerobic bacilli, meningococci and diphtheritic paralysis.

There was at that time no active therapy available for tuberculosis, so that when artificial pneumothorax came into use radiological studies reaped a full harvest. Between the years 1910 and 1937 Dr Rist devoted himself to teaching and research. During the 1914-18 War he was chef de service of typhoid and para-typhoid hospitals. He was a fine clinician and taught his students to use physical signs with care. As Etienne Bernard said of him, ‘Il avait le sens musical', which helped him considerably in diagnosis. He thought it a mistake that physical signs should be neglected. His stethoscope was in constant use.

For the benefit of his students he wrote a small book on elementary semiology, Séméiologie élémentaire de Vappareil respiratoire (1934), and another—of great value—entitled La Tuberculose (1927). His most important book was Les Symptomes de la tuberculose pulmonaire (1943), which represents a lifetime of experience. He made a particular study of Laennec. His deep knowledge and sympathy made him the doyen of chest physicians, and the development in France of the study of social medicine was largely due to him.

His honours were numerous and included the Distinguished Service Medal of the United States (1919), and appointment as an Officer of the Order of Leopold, as well as Commander of the Legion of Honour (1919). There can be very few Frenchmen who have achieved such world-wide fame in their lifetime. Very memorable were the holidays with the Rist family in Savoy or by the sea, when there was time for discussion on any and every subject. Ultramodern painting did not appeal to him, but he was a fine violinist when young, and the forty-eight piano preludes and fugues of Bach were his constant joy. Debussy was his friend. He was indeed blest in his home life and often invited guests—especially from England and America.

Madame Rist herself was a qualified doctor and once a pupil of her husband. She was born Madeleine Roy, the daughter of a schoolmaster, and married in 1911. One felt it a great privilege to be invited to their house. They had four sons and four daughters. There were very many who remembered Dr Rist’s cultured charm and his great sympathy. But it is not only his additions to knowledge we recall, but the man himself with his sterling character who possessed the art of inspiring those who sought to learn. Etienne Bernard has said—‘Nous n’oublierons jamais que M. Rist fut un grand médecin Français—un des plus grands’.

Richard R Trail

* He was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."

[Bull. Acad. nat. Méd. (Paris), 1956, 140, 340-50, 352-4; Bull. Soc. méd. Hôp. Paris, 1956, 72, 1111-18 (p); Presse méd., 1956, 64, 1787-90; Rev. méd. Suisse rom., 1956, 76, 1106-11; Times, 16 Apr. 1956; Hommage au Docteur E. Rist, 10 janvier 1937. [Paris, 1937?]; E. Rist. Titres et travaux scientifiques. [Paris, 1932].]

(Volume V, page 347)

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