Lives of the fellows

Leonard Selwyn Taitz

b.1 March 1934 d.11 January 1991
BSc Wits(1954) MB BCh(1957) MD(1963) MRCP(1972) FRCP(1980)

Leonard Taitz was a man of many parts. In addition to his commitment to paediatrics and his special interest in nutrition, he also had an extensive knowledge of the arts, especially music, and a passionate dedication to the protection of the environment.

He was born in Springs, South Africa, a small and unpretentious town near Johannesburg and studied medicine at the University of Witwatersrand where he took first class honours in chemistry, physics, botany, zoology, pharmacology, psychiatry and medicine - and carried off all the prizes as the best all round student.

As a houseman at Baragwanath, the largest hospital in Africa, he became aware of diseases which elsewhere in the western world appeared only in textbooks - rickets, kwashiorkor, pellagra. His interest in nutrition culminated in an MD thesis on rickets among urban black infants. He noted the contrast between breastfed and bottlefed and waged a lifelong battle against European and American manufacturers who distributed expensive dried milk products in the deprived countries of the third world.

In 1964 he was appointed to the Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, USA, and to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and spent four years working in one of New York’s most deprived communities. He then moved to the department of child health in Sheffield, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Child nutrition continued to be an abiding interest. He became aware of rapid weight gain in many infants as a result of excessive sodium in feeds caused by mothers over-concentrating the feeds. He soon discovered that this was a national phenomenon and the reason for the high incidence of hypertonic dehydration prevalent at that time. In later years, Taitz was much involved in problems of child abuse and, in particular, child sex abuse. He carried out a survey of 400 children subjected to abuse, which formed the basis of many of his later publications. His deep knowledge of the subject and his incisive manner in court made him much sought after for medico-legal work.

Having moved to Sheffield, he developed a passion for the place and a profound commitment to the preservation of its environment. Sheffield - he would boast - had the cleanest air in Europe; and where else could one find an award-winning restaurant built on a slag heap? He became the driving force behind Transport 2000 and prevented the centre of Sheffield from being turned into a racing circuit. As national chairman of the Conservation Society, the forerunner of Friends of the Earth, he successfully joined battle together with Michael Heseltine and Arthur Scargill - at opposite ends of the political spectrum - to save the Lyceum Theatre from demolition and to dash the town council’s plans for replacing it with a car park. Perhaps, as part of his general philosophy of life, the fact that he had never himself either driven or owned a car added fuel to his enthusiasm in this particular campaign.

Like so many people with great and diverse knowledge - from the arts to the sciences and embracing epicureanism with a dash of hedonism - he was an inspired teacher, whether converting students to the benefits of correct nutrition or a neophyte to Wagner. In addition to his numerous articles in the medical literature, he was author of three books: The obese child, Oxford, Blackwell Scientific, 1983; Present day practice in infant feeding, HMSO, March 1981 (two further editions, 1983, 1988), and A handbook of child nutrition, Oxford, OUP, 1989.

All who knew Leonard Taitz were struck by his quiet wisdom. He rarely used complex treatments when simple therapy was available - and often superior. Throughout his long illness he remained cheerful and productive. Perhaps the most lasting impression he left with his medical colleagues was that of a man who loved children and performed his work with enjoyment and good humour. Unusual for a paediatrician, he was a bachelor.

V Dubowitz

[Brit.med.J., 1992,302,404;The Independent, 8 Feb 1991;The Daily Telegraph, 12 Feb 1991]

(Volume IX, page 510)

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