Lives of the fellows

Leopold Wollner

b.11 June 1924 d.8 February 2005
MB BS Lond(1951) MRCS LRCP(1951) MRCP(1957) FRCP(1974)

Leo Wollner was one of the architects of modern geriatric medicine, building on the foundation prepared by some of the early pioneers with whom he worked, including Woodford Williams, Philip Bedford and Lionel Cosin.

In 1938, Leo and his sister escaped from the Nazi occupation of Vienna, arriving in England, where his parents later joined them. At the age of 14 years he therefore found himself living in Cornwall, his first introduction to the UK. His path to medical school was an arduous one. He studied by correspondence course and at Birmingham technical college, eventually gaining a place at Guy's, where he won several prizes, including a senior Sebright scholar exhibition, a Charles Henry Foyle's trust exhibition, and the treasurer's prize in clinical medicine. He gained his MRCP in 1957, and was elected a Fellow of the College in 1974.

In the early years after qualifying he worked with Leslie Witts [Munk's Roll, Vol.VII, p.618], then Nuffield professor of medicine at Oxford University, who introduced him to geriatric medicine. This involved spending a six-month attachment at the Cowley Road Hospital in Oxford - the birthplace of many of this country's outstanding geriatricians.

Leo then had senior registrar appointments in Sunderland, and also in Newcastle, during which time he continued to develop his interest and experience in caring for the elderly, as well as undertaking training in general internal medicine. He was appointed to his first consultant post at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which he held between 1960 and 1963. This was followed by an appointment as consultant physician in geriatric medicine in Oxford, where he was also a member of the departments of both the Regius professor of medicine and the Nuffield professor of medicine. The University of Oxford accorded him the status of clinical lecturer in geriatrics and general medicine in 1965. He held these posts until he retired in 1989.

He was able to boast with some pride, at the time of his retirement, that he believed his unit had trained more geriatricians than any other in the country. He could say this with some justification, and his influence on the practice of geriatric medicine was thereby promulgated widely, even beyond the UK. He fought hard in Oxford to integrate geriatric medicine with general medicine, a move that was resisted by many of his physician colleagues. However, once Leo decided that something was important, he usually got his way. This was no exception, and an integrated approach to the care of the elderly and also acute medicine in younger people was adopted in Oxford.

He was very interested in the autonomic nervous system, and especially the cerebral circulation in the elderly, an area he researched with Ralph Johnson [Munk's Roll, Vol.IX, p.275] and also John Spalding. Temperate regulation and postural hypotension were the other research interests on which he published.

He was a great supporter of the College, which he held in the highest regard, deeming it an honour to contribute to various committees.

In summary, Leo was a man of great principle, but also considerable kindness, who won the esteem, albeit sometimes grudgingly, from all those with whom he came into contact. It was clear to everyone that he was always trying to do what he felt was right, for the elderly in particular, and for his staff in general. His wife, Sylvia, whom he married in 1951, was a source of great support to him. She and his daughter (Jenny), three sons (Mark, Paul and John), and seven grandchildren, survive him.

Gordon Wilcock

(Volume XII, page web)

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