Lives of the fellows

Moses Myer Suzman

b.6 March 1904 d.11 July 1994
MB BS Durh(1926) MRCS LRCP(1926) MD(1928) MRCP(1929) FRCP(1957)

Moses Suzman, known to friends and colleagues as ‘Mosie’, died a few months after celebrating his 90th birthday surrounded by family, friends and colleagues. He was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, the son of Lewis Suzman and his wife Rebecca (née Chasen), his father having emigrated to South Africa from Lithuania in the 1880s. His early education was at St John's College, Johannesburg, and he then went on to the University of Witwatersrand to study medicine. He subsequently came to the UK and completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Durham. After qualification he held house posts at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne, until 1929 when he was awarded a Rockefeller fellowship which led to him spending the next few years in the USA at Harvard University Medical School, where he developed an interest in research.

In the early 1930s he returned to South Africa as a consultant physician, holding part time appointments at Witwatersrand University and Johannesburg General Hospital until his offical retirement. His main interests were in nutritional defects, vitamins and cardiology; he developed the use of beta blockers as a means of treating anxiety and hyperventilation long before the technique became generally accepted. He was also a splendid teacher, with an amazing memory - if asked a question he would give a clear reply backed up by a list of useful references. He did not accept orthodox dogma uncritically and was never afraid to knock the establishment. His amazing memory and voracious reading combined to make him a doughty opponent of pet medical theories. A gentle man, with a wry humour, he would defend his love of smoking cigars as strongly as he questioned the value of poorly based treatments. Even after retiring he continued his association with the medical school and other institutions and was active in teaching, meetings and clinical work. He was an honorary fellow of the American College of Physicians and a fellow of the American College of Cardiologists. He was also an active member of many international medical societies. During the Second World War he saw action in Egypt, where he commanded a medical unit of the South African General Hospital and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

His wife, Helen, was South Africa’s most renowned MP during the nationalist regime, an indefatigable fighter for civil rights and a staunch opponent of apartheid. Mosie shared her passion for a just society and, happily, lived to witness both the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the first multiracial election in South Africa. He and his wife were mutually supportive and he found time to attend each of her 36 annual meetings in her constituency during her fighting years in parliament. They had two daughters, one of whom is a doctor.

Mosie had many interests outside his profession. He loved books, music, Persian carpets, food, wine and good conversation. He was a keen golfer - but his theory was better than his practice. Yet he was always ready to give a lesson on the perfect swing, both on and off the golf course. As he grew older he spoke of three ways to handle age: never retire from work, never become old, do not become sick. Good advice but, perhaps like his golf, theory is one thing, practice another.

B Goldberg

[Brit.med.J., 1994,309,1297; The Independent, 19 July 1994]

(Volume X, page 480)

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