Lives of the fellows

Francis Isidore Rackow

b.23 April 1922 d.3 October 2003
MB BS Lond(1943) MRCP(1948) MD(1950) MRCP Edin(1959) FRCPC(1959) FRCP(1976) FRCP Edin(1994)

Francis Rackow was a consultant physician at St Helier Hospital, Sutton, and St Anthony's Hospital, Cheam. He was born of Russian orthodox Jewish immigrant parents who had come from Odessa in 1903 during the pogroms. His father, Joseph William Rackow, was poorly educated but was an exceptional linguist and had a successful business career in London, working for a manufacturer of luggage, Noton, becoming managing director of the firm. Frank was brought up in the Jewish religion, which he abandoned after an early and unsuccessful marriage.

Frank was born in London, the younger brother of the later Maurice Rackow, consultant radiologist, King's College Hospital. A sister, Doris, who was a talented linguist like her father, married a general practitioner. Another brother, Phillip, contracted encephalitis lethargica in the early 1920s and developed post-encephalitic Parkinsonism of a severity that led to him entering institutional care.

Frank was educated at Kilburn Grammar School and King's College. After qualifying in medicine at King's and completing house jobs there, he served in the RAMC from 1944 and reached the rank of captain. After demobilisation in 1947, he gained further training at King's College, Hammersmith, and St Andrew's, Bow, hospitals. He gained his MRCP in 1948. Whilst a registrar at St Andrew's, he took his London MD, gaining a distinction, and went on to King's, where he had training in diabetes with Wilfred Oakley [Munk's Roll, Vol.XI, web] and cardiology with Terence East [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.157]. Whilst at Hammersmith Hospital in 1949 he met his future wife, Jean, who was a student nurse there, and they married in 1952.

Despite his specialist training in diabetes and cardiology, Frank was a truly general physician with wide interests and was capable, competent and committed. He had a particularly strong interest in and aptitude for teaching and from the mid-1950s to the 1970s ran an extremely successful correspondence course to assist those studying for MRCP, under the pseudonym 'J Arnold'. He took particular care in selecting only first class colleagues to assist in marking course papers. He was not motivated to build up a private practice, preferring to put his energies into teaching. He took considerable trouble to conduct the library research underpinning his teaching course and even took the membership exam of the Edinburgh College, purely to familiarise himself with the examination. He had no interest in conducting original research and it may be that this lack of a research pedigree, or perhaps the stigma of his running a commercial correspondence course, explained his very late election to the Fellowship of the College in 1976, 28 years after gaining the MRCP.

Given his very strong interest in teaching, he was disappointed not to have secured a teaching hospital consultancy allowing his teaching abilities to be given full scope. However, he was never disillusioned or bitter about this, but accepted it philosophically. It does seem a great pity that he never had this opportunity to fully blossom as a teacher and to gain the recognition that he merited.

During most of his career and early retirement years he lived in Dulwich and was proud to have been elected a member of the Dulwich Club, founded in the eighteenth century. He retired in 1982 at the age of 60, and his retirement was an active and fulfilling period of his life, during which time he moved to Chiswick. He pursued his strong interests in wine, local history, music, church architecture and gardening. He is survived by his wife, Jean, three daughters, one of whom is medically qualified and practising in France as a psychiatrist, and a son. Sadly, his retirement was marred by the sad loss of his daughter Rachel in the Marchioness boat disaster. He died from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Malcolm Hodkinson

[Brit.med.J., 2004,328,1264]

(Volume XI, page 466)

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