Lives of the fellows

Benjamin Portnoy

b.18 January 1914 d.9 March 2012
MB ChB Manch(1936) MD(1938) PhD New York(1951) MRCP(1975) FRCP(1976)

Ben Portnoy was a dermatologist in Manchester. He was born in Salford, Lancashire, the son of Jewish immigrants from tsarist Russia. His father, Hyman Portnoy, established a clothing business in Chapel Street, in the centre of the city. Ben attended school locally and won a place at the University of Manchester Medical School, graduating with distinctions in pharmacology, pathology and medicine in 1936.

After house posts at Manchester Royal Infirmary, he became chief assistant in the clinical research and investigation unit, working mainly on the effects of trace elements and vitamin C. He obtained his MD before moving to America, to San Francisco and New York, to continue his studies.

He returned to England at the outbreak of the Second World War and enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He served in the 8th Army, mainly in the Middle East, North Africa and Germany, commanding a mobile pathology unit and rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

After the war Ben chose to study dermatology at St John’s hospital in London before being invited to join P B Mumford’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.351] team at the Manchester and Salford Hospital for Skin Diseases. He took on additional sessions at the Jewish and Manchester Northern hospitals, and at Hope Hospital. The advent of the NHS brought a need to develop dermatology services in south Manchester and north Cheshire, and Ben accepted the challenge with enthusiasm, opening clinics at several hospitals in the area.

Despite this heavy clinical workload, Ben published papers on various aspects of dermatology and held a clinical lectureship with the university from 1960. His outpatient clinics were always popular with medical students, attracted by his relaxed style of teaching and store of humorous anecdotes. Ben also played his full part in committee work, both locally and regionally. His ready wit could be relied upon to enliven the dullest of agendas.

Ben continued working for the NHS for two years after his official retirement and maintained a large private practice in St John Street, Manchester. His many contacts with the legal profession meant his advice was frequently sought on medico-legal matters, particularly in regard to industrial dermatitis.

Ben had many interests outside medicine. He read law and became a member of Gray’s Inn, experience put to good use when he was on the bench. He was an authority on Persian carpets, an interest generated when serving in the Middle East. He learned to paint in oils and water colours, and some of his paintings hung in the board room of the Manchester and Salford Hospital for Skin Diseases for many years. After retiring, Ben enrolled on an arts course and widened his already extensive knowledge of Egyptology.

Perhaps his most absorbing enthusiasm was music. He was a talented pianist with a particular interest in Chopin. His post-prandial recitals at the annual dinners of the North of England Dermatological Society held at the Midland Hotel, Manchester, in the 1960s and 1970s gave members and their guests much pleasure. Ben was president of the society in 1969.

Ben was married to Ann (née Levy) for 63 years. She survived him with a son, two daughters and 10 grandchildren. A grandson is studying medicine at Oxford.

G Kenneth Hargreaves

(Volume XII, page web)

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