Lives of the fellows

George Selby

b.21 March 1922 d.28 April 1997
AM(1995) MB BS Sydney(1946) MRCP Edin(1950) MRCP(1951) MRACP(1952) FRCP Edin(1962) FRACP(1965) MD(1968) FRCP(1970)

George Selby was a neurologist based in Sydney, Australia. He was born and grew up in Vienna where his mother encouraged and developed his love of music. The rise of Nazism forced the family’s departure from Austria and they settled in Australia in 1938. In Sydney George completed his education at Scots College and in 1941 achieved his ambition, winning a place to study medicine at the University of Sydney. Influenced at an early stage by the eminent neurosurgeon, Gilbert Phillips, he soon determined that his future was to be in neurology. Following graduation and two years spent as a house officer and research fellow, he served as a medical officer with the International Refugee Organization in Salzburg for a year before proceeding to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, to pursue his neurological training. He enjoyed the teachings of the famous neurological consultants of the day, however Sir Charles Symonds [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.653] became his special and revered mentor.

Returning to Sydney in 1951, George determined to specialize solely in neurology and was appointed neurologist-in-charge of the Northcott Neurological Centre. This unit was devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of nervous diseases in ex-servicemen and their dependants. In 1953 he was appointed to the Royal North Shore Hospital of Sydney, an association which was to last for over thirty years. Later he was to become the first head of the department of neurology and greatly influenced it’s development. He also held appointments at other hospitals and conducted a busy private practice.

While widely recognized as a clinician and clinical researcher, George Selby became especially noted as a teacher at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. At his old university he lectured in neuro-anatomy and taught medical students clinical skills. Such tutorials, particularly those with postgraduates, became memorable. Case demonstrations were meticulously conducted and were highly informative and entertaining. Young doctors, eager to learn, would give up many hours well into the evenings and during weekends to attend. They would come away enlightened and encouraged; some were stimulated into training as neurologists. Many practicing today were deeply influenced by him.

His research interests were mainly in Parkinsonism. With neurosurgeon John Grant, George collaborated in the performance of a large series of stereotactic thalamotomies, demonstrating during the decade prior to the use of laevodopa the benefits of surgery in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. In later times he was to observe with interest the resurgence of surgery for Parkinson’s disease. Other studies were in headache, notably migraine and trigeminal neuralgia. Throughout his practicing life he contributed widely to the neurological literature. Well respected internationally, his authorship was sought for chapters in major reference texts and he wrote a well received monograph, Migraine and its variants (Sydney, Adis Health Science Press, 1983). He collaborated with and encouraged others to publish and lectured widely in Australia and overseas.

George was totally committed to the care of patients who were not only attended to with his meticulous clinical skills, but were also helped by the warmth of his personality. He was exquisitely courteous and had a deep respect for the dignity and sanctity of life. He had an ease of communication, identification with the human condition, and a patient and genuine desire to do the best for each person.

An early and active member of the Australian Association of Neurologists, George was president from 1974 to 1978. During this period he ensured there was an appropriate programme developed in association with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians to enable full neurological training to be undertaken in Australia. Realizing, however, the value of additional overseas experience, he helped negotiate training positions at Queen Square and the Mayo Clinic. He was a foundation member of the Australian Neurological Foundation, later to become the Australian Brain Foundation. For his considerable services to Australian neurology he was appointed to the membership of the Order of Australia in 1995.

Life for George was to be lived to the full and enjoyed. He maintained a consummate love and interest in classical music and opera and an appreciation of art and literature. He was a keen skier and enjoyed fly fishing in the streams of the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales. Wit, charm and an ability to extract every bit from each experience made him a delightful companion. An innate love and respect for other people gave him a great capacity for friendship. With him relationships were continually enriching and enhancing.

After retiring in 1993 his activities were curtailed by a cruelly debilitating illness which he bore with courage and dignity. George Selby came to love his adopted country and identified himself firmly as Australian. He certainly has an enduring place in Australian neurology.

Peter M Williamson

(Volume X, page 440)

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