Lives of the fellows

Asher Dubb

b.19 March 1928 d.1 January 2005
MB BCh Wits(1950) FRCP(1997)

Asher Dubb was a professor of medicine at the University of Witwatersrand, the doyen of clinical teaching in South Africa. He was born in Somerset East, South Africa, and matriculated from Grey High School in Port Elizabeth. In 1950 he graduated from the University of Witwatersrand. He undertook his internship at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. This was followed by a period at the Waterval Hospital, where he was involved in the treatment of patients with infectious diseases, especially polio and tuberculosis. He pursued further training as a medical registrar at Coronation Hospital in Johannesburg, qualifying as a physician, with a diploma in internal medicine, in 1960.

He was appointed as a physician at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto in 1964 and was to practise medicine at the hospital for more than 40 years. He moved through the ranks to the position of principal physician in 1974. The University of Witwatersrand awarded him an associate professorship in 1980 in recognition of his many scholarly contributions. He subsequently became professor of medicine and head of the department of medicine.

Dubb tried to improve the appalling conditions at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital. This was at a time when it was neither fashionable nor necessarily expedient to be openly involved in such previously ‘neglected activities’ and met with many bureaucratic difficulties. However, gradually, through his perseverance, his efforts were finally rewarded. The devastating situations which had existed at the hospital slowly began and continued to improve, with new beds, more staff and better attention given to patients. During his period at the hospital his endeavours for the improvement of the hospital did not go unnoticed and Dubb endeared himself to both patients and staff.

He was a mentor and role model to generations of medical students, interns and registrars, with his inspiring bedside rounds, his courteous approach to patients, his almost obsessive attention to detail, his encyclopaedic knowledge of medicine and his amazing deductive powers. Many of his former students now fill top positions at universities and hospitals abroad and in South Africa. A measure of the high esteem in which Asher Dubb was held by his former students was the wonderful turnout by many of them who came from far and wide to be at his retirement party. It was a wonderful occasion. Ten years later, during a surprise 75th birthday party, a massive book was presented to him consisting of letters and contributions received from all over the world, sent to him by academics, medical specialists, past students, co-workers and friends.

He was the first recipient of the PV Tobias medal for excellence in clinical teaching in 1982 and was also awarded an honorary fellowship of the College of Physicians of South Africa for his outstanding contributions to medicine in South Africa. The faculty of health sciences at the University of Witwatersrand recognised his services in the form of a 75th anniversary medal.

He combined his deep interest in the history of medicine with the hobby of philately and used stamps to illustrate many articles, as well as lectures to students, postgraduates, professional and lay audiences, locally and abroad. His talks on medical history were beautifully illustrated with pictures of stamps depicting famous medical men and women.

His final academic achievement was to publish Asher’s anthology (Johannesburg, Unacel Publishers), a combination of the history of Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, his personal philosophy and stamp-illustrated articles on such diverse topics as ‘women in medicine’, ‘war and medicine’, ‘medicine and music’ and ‘the history of Nobel and his prizes’. The book was started at the beginning of 2004 and was published in October 2004, about two months before he died.

Asher was a wonderful and devoted husband, father and grandfather to his wife Vivian, his children Sharon and Myron, and his grandchildren Darien and Ariella. He died after fighting a courageous battle with lung cancer for the better part of year. He was a non-smoker. His gradual deterioration allowed him and his family to come to terms with his illness and to prepare for the inevitable end in the best possible way. He will be sorely missed by his many friends and associates whose lives he touched. A collection of about 1,500 books on the history of medicine from Asher’s personal library was donated to the library at the Wits Medical School by his wife, Vivian Fritz, to commemorate his love of medical history and his beautifully illustrated talks on medical history.

Vivian Fritz

(Volume XII, page web)

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