Lives of the fellows

Harry Ellie Reef

b.30 July 1921 d.29 December 2004
MB BCh Johannesburg(1945) MRCP Edin(1954) FRCP(1980) FRCP Edin

Harry Ellie Reef was a consultant neurologist at Johannesburg General Hospital and an emeritus professor at the University of Western Australia. Born in South Africa to Lithuanian immigrant parents, his father, Barnet Reef, was a businessman. Educated at Grey College, Bloemfontein, his first language was Afrikaans. He studied medicine at Witwatersrand University and the Johannesburg General Hospital (JGH), qualifying in 1945.

For a time he was a general practitioner in South Africa and then he travelled to the UK to undertake further training in neurology. He did house jobs at the Northern General Hospital in Edinburgh from 1952 to 1953 and then moved to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for a few months. Appointed registrar, then senior registrar, at the Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London in 1955, he stayed there for two years.

Plans to remain in the UK were dropped at the request of his ageing father. The family returned to South Africa and he set about establishing a neurology department, exclusively for Africans, at Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg. A neurologist at Baragwaneth from 1957 to 1965, he also became assistant neurologist in 1961 and chief neurologist in 1970 at the JGH.

He published papers on topics such as the particular health problems of the Bantu and on the therapy and prevalence of Parkinson’s disease in Africa. Utterly opposed to apartheid, he later received various awards in recognition of his work in the anti-apartheid movement.

When he retired, he and his wife moved to Perth, Western Australia, to join their children and grandchildren. From 1986, he was an honorary consultant at the Royal Perth Hospital and an emeritus professor at the University of Western Australia where he continued to coach and mentor trainee neurologists.

He was a keen philatelist, bridge player, reader and writer, and a lover of fine wines. Continuing his research into current developments, he was also very interested in the history of medicine.

In 1949 he married Dorothy née Copelowit, whose father Toder Copelowit was a timber merchant. When he died, after 20 years of battling with lymphoma, Dorothy survived him, together with their daughters, Elaine Rudaizky and Lynne Cohen, who is a professor in the faculty of education and arts at Edith Cowan University, Mount Lawley, Western Australia.

RCP editor

[Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh obituaries - accessed 30 March 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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