Lives of the fellows

Maurice Nellen

b.23 March 1915 d.19 July 2000
MD Cape Town(1951) MRCP(1951) MRCP Edin(1957) FRCP Edin(1961) FRCP(1967) FACC(1996)

Maurice was the first doctor I ever saw who carried his stethoscope hanging around his neck instead of dangling down the front of his chest. It was 1949. I was house physician on the professorial firm at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, and he had just returned to join the firm after many years of study and practice in England. This habit was not the only unusual thing about him. He brought with him what I later learned was the 'Hammersmith style' of clinical discussion - clever, informed, analytical, challenging in a slightly aggressive way. Normally the most gentle and courteous of men, this was the only aggressive feature he ever showed.

He had another distinction. He came back as a specialist cardiologist to a world in which we were all expected to be sound generalists. His clinical acumen and profound knowledge of his subject served to convince many of us that specialization was the way to go. More than anyone else, he got cardiology started in Cape Town. The group contained some brilliant clinical scientists. Val Schrire, Louis Vogelpoel, Andre Swanepoel and Wally Beck come to mind - and they rapidly built up an impressive list of publications and an international reputation. Their success induced Maurice to establish the South African Cardiac Society, of which he became president in 1962. His contribution was recognised by his appointment as a life president in 1966. A year later the first heart transplant was carried out in Cape Town, an achievement that would not have been possible without the back-up of the outstanding medical team that Maurice had helped to create.

Maurice came from a wealthy Cape Town family and when he married the beautiful and charming Rosa and produced two sons life must have seemed idyllic. Tragedy struck with Rosa's early death - from leukaemia, as I recall. Maurice was shattered and lost much of his enthusiastic vigour. Later he met and married Felicity who proved a wonderful companion and happiness returned. They came to live in London where they quickly established themselves, Maurice continuing to practice as a cardiologist, Felicity as an architect and an astonishingly well-informed expert on wine.

His terminal illness was distressing. Progressive fibrosing alveolitis caused increasing shortness of breath and disability which he bore with courage and good humour. He will be remembered as an excellent clinical cardiologist who did much to put his speciality on the map in South Africa. A devoted family man and one of the best of nature's gentlemen.

Sir Raymond Hoffenberg

[Brit.med.J., 2000,321,1085]

(Volume XI, page 419)

<< Back to List