Lives of the fellows

Harry Lloyd Fairbridge Currey

b.5 June 1925 d.30 January 1998
MB ChB Cape Town(1950) MMed(1960) MRCP(1962) FRCP(1971)

Harry Currey was professor of rheumatology at the London Hospital Medical School. He was born in Grahamstown, South Africa. After attending Michaelhouse School, Natal, where his father, who had been a Rhodes scholar, was headmaster, he served in the South African Navy from 1944 to 1945, seconded to the Royal Navy. He was an able seaman on HMS Queen Elizabeth, based in Ceylon. He first visited England when his ship entered Portsmouth harbour at the end of the war.

He completed his medical training in the University of Cape Town and graduated MB ChB in 1950 and in the same year married a fellow graduate, Chrystal Komlosy. They had two daughters and a son.

After an internship in medicine and surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, he continued with a further period of internship in infectious diseases and obstetrics in preparation for general practice. It had been suggested to him that he was not suited for specialist training. From 1953 to 1958 he was a general practitioner in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

However, his true potential was eventually realised and he returned to hospital medicine in 1959 as a registrar and then senior registrar in general internal medicine at Groote Schuur. He gained his MMed in 1960. This led to a career change when it was arranged for Harry to go to London to learn rheumatology. The intention was that he should return to Cape Town and set up a rheumatology service.

In 1962 Harry arrived at the Hammersmith Hospital to attend the membership course. He passed in the same year. He became house physician at Hammersmith to Eric Bywaters and Tom Scott. About this time there was a further change of direction - Harry and his family decided to stay in England. His progress through the ranks of rheumatology was rapid. He became a junior registrar in the department of physical medicine and rheumatology at the London Hospital to Will Tegner [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.433] and Michael Mason and in 1963 was appointed senior registrar in that department.

In 1970 the London Hospital Medical School established a senior lectureship in rheumatology funded by the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council. The first holder of this post was Harry Currey. Harry wassubsequently promoted to reader and then professor. At this time three strands of complementary research activity came together at the London – Harry Currey in rheumatology, Michael Freeman in experimental orthopaedics and Barrie Vernon-Roberts in osteo-articular pathology. This was the beginning of the bone and joint research unit. Initially there were three co-directors, but Harry Currey became the sole director of the unit.

From his appointment as the first academic rheumatologist at the London Harry Currey set about establishing a comprehensive department - recruiting a research team, establishing close links with other departments, insisting on the academic involvement in clinical rheumatology and reorganizing the teaching programme. He was an enthusiastic and excellent teacher in both general medicine and rheumatology, ensuring that both undergraduates and postgraduates received theoretical and practical instruction. He arranged that the curriculum should include a two month attachment to the rheumatology firm for all clinical students. The examination of the patient was always at the centre of his clinical teaching. The weekly departmental clinical meeting in the department of rheumatology at the London Hospital, followed by a guest lecture or research meeting, was largely started on Harry Currey’s initiative in the mid-1960s and continues until the present time.

He was always active as a clinician, correctly diagnosing such rarities as atrial myxoma and tetanus (at least rare in East London but seen in South Africa). He was an advocate of the early use of immunosuppressives in rheumatoid arthritis, correctly insisting on proper assessment of these drugs which led to the first fully controlled trial of the use of azathioprine in rheumatoid arthritis.

Among his many activities and honours were invitations to give some key lectures, including the Philip Ellman lecture at the Royal College of Physicians. He was president of the Heberden Society in 1981. He was editor of the Annals of the rheumatic diseases from 1983 until 1988, and was co-editor of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council’s Reports on the rheumatic diseases. With Michael Mason he was co-editor of the London’s textbook of rheumatology for students and junior doctors, An introduction to clinical rheumatology [London, Pittmans] the first edition of which was published in 1970. It went through three further editions, the last being largely re-written and edited by Harry Currey with the title of Mason and Currey’s clinical rheumatology. He was chairman of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council’s research sub-committee and served on many committees within the medical college, the University of London, the Royal College of Physicians and Essex Health Authority.

Despite his involvement in many academic activities, he was always critical of the large international congresses. In 1971 the United Kingdom, represented by the Heberden Society, was host to the European Congress of Rheumatology. The programme committee was chaired by Harry Currey who was determined to improve the scientific and educational value of the Congress by abolishing the usual concurrent sessions at which short papers were read one after the other. Instead he gained the support of his colleagues in organizing sessions in which papers were taken by title or abstract for discussion after a review of the subject by an expert, leading to a free discussion time. This was an outstanding success and the pattern has been followed and developed at many conferences since then.

He was an enthusiast in any activity that he undertook. He was a keen rock climber in his youth in South Africa, became a fell walker in the UK and was a keen gardener. After his first wife died in 1971 he began to listen to classical music and rapidly gained a wide knowledge of this from reading and fromattendance at numerous concerts. He was also a keen ornithologist. In November 1973 he married Jackie (née Harris) a senior registrar in rheumatology at the London at the time.

After retirement one of Harry’s newfound activities was golf, which he approached with his customary zeal. Unfortunately the progressive development of failing health, in which Jackie so devotedly supported him, led to an inability to pursue his many interests. He is remembered with respect and affection as a friend, an enthusiast in all he undertook, a clinician and an academic rheumatologist.

Colin G Barnes

[Brit.med.J., 1998,316,1537]

(Volume XI, page 138)

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