Lives of the fellows

George Csonka

b.29 January 1916 d.11 May 2000
MB BCh BAO Belfast(1941) MD(1947) MRCP(1950) MRCP Edin(1950) FRCP Edin(1966) FRCP(1971)

George Csonka was a consultant venereologist in London. He was born and educated in Austria. His father was the director of the Austrian State Serum Institute; his mother came from a family of rich landowners. With the political changes in Europe during the late 1930s George came to the United Kingdom and became a medical student at Queens University, Belfast. He graduated with honours from Belfast in 1941, and became a house surgeon and house physician at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He suffered from osteogenesis imperfecta, but never allowed this to interfere with his professional or social life.

George joined the RAMC during the Second World War and was graded venereologist. He rapidly obtained the memberships of the College of Physicians of Ireland and London and in 1947 he went to St Mary's Hospital, Paddington. At St Mary's he was an MRC research fellow and subsequently the physician to the MRC working party investigating non-specific urethritis.

In 1951, he spent a year as the chief medical adviser in the Middle East to the World Health Organisation on the bejel/syphilis eradication campaign. He maintained throughout his life the friendships which he had made throughout the Middle East.

In 1954 he was appointed consultant venereologist in charge of the venereal diseases department at Addenbroke's Hospital, Cambridge. This was a part time post and allowed him to continue his research position in the MRC working party investigating non-specific urethritis. George continued his clinical and research relationship with St Mary's Hospital until 1963.

Subsequently, he became consultant venereologist at Watford and Central Middlesex Hospitals. After relinquishing his MRC post in 1963 at St Mary's Hospital he became a clinical research worker to the CRC at Northwick Park. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s he maintained his research relationships with them.

In the 1950s and 1960s George's name became synonymous with clinical research into Reiter's syndrome and he was the recognised international authority on its clinical manifestations. With the appointment of David Taylor-Robinson to the CRC at Northwick Park in David Tyrell's unit, George began his long-term collaboration with Taylor-Robinson. During this period they investigated and elucidated the relationship of ureaplasma, mycoplasma, and chlamydia with non-gonococcal urethritis.

In 1977 George returned as a consultant in venereology/genito-urinary medicine to St Mary's Hospital and at the age of 60 was appointed to the teaching hospital where he had initially made such a significant contribution to research. He retired from St Mary's in 1982.

Following his NHS retirement, George remained active in clinical genitourinary medicine being at various times locum consultant at Charing Cross, St Mary's Hospital (Paddington), St Mary's (Roehampton) and other London teaching hospitals. Such was his level of clinical interest and ability that he was asked and accepted an invitation to set up a new venerology unit in Budapest in the early 90s.

George Csonka was a very pleasant and delightful man who had a wonderful sense of humour and was very modest about his own academic and intellectual abilities. He was always very helpful in encouraging others. He never complained about his life-long battle with osteogenesis imperfecta and continued regardless whatever complication or problems would beset him. Fractured limbs, clavicles and patellae would never deter George from continuing his work or pleasure.

He had an extensive knowledge of English watercolours and was interested in music, painting, travel and archaeology. He had a life-long love of cats and was undoubtedly one of the most popular figures in venereology.

He had been one of the early clinical scientists in the United Kingdom in this field. He was unfortunate in that he was born a generation too soon as the first academic chair in venereology in the United Kingdom was appointed in 1977. Had such an appointment been made 20 years earlier there is no doubt that George Csonka would have been its first occupant. A pleasant, courteous, charming man with a deep love of his family and commitment to his friends, George Csonka's death was mourned by many in his chosen specialty of genito-urinary medicine.

J R W Harris

[Brit.med.J., 321, 200, 454]

(Volume XI, page 134)

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