Lives of the fellows

Charles Marcel Poser

b.30 December 1923 d.11 November 2010
MD(1951) FRCP(1997)

Charles Marcel Poser was a neurologist internationally renowned for his expertise in multiple sclerosis. Born in Antwerp, Belgium, his interest in medicine began during the Nazi invasion of his country in 1940 when, as a 16 year old boy scout, he offered to help in a makeshift British military hospital set up near Dunkirk. His family escaped, were smuggled across northern France to Paris, and eventually settled in New York.

Educated at George Washington High School, he graduated in 1941and began his studies at City College of New York. Two years later he enlisted in the US Army and served in a European military intelligence unit. Present at Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, he was also at the liberation of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. On his return to the US, he completed his degree from City College, studied medicine at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and trained at the Neurological Institute of New York. As a Fulbright scholar, he returned to Antwerp for postdoctoral training and there began his work in degenerative neurological diseases, especially the disorders of myelin, including multiple sclerosis.

Among his many academic posts he was professor and head of the department of neurology at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Kansas City, professor of neurology at Boston School of Medicine, and chair of the neurology department at the University of Vermont College of Medicine from 1968 to 1981. He was also senior neurologist at Beth Israel-Deaconess Hospital, a Harvard affiliate. He served for more than 50 years in clinical practice and eventually retired from Harvard Medical School in 2005 when he was approaching 82.

A prolific writer, he published extensively in his field. He was the founding editor of the journals World neurology and Neurological infections and epidemiology. Among several important books were An atlas of multiple sclerosis (New York, Parthenon,1998), An illustrated pocketbook of multiple sclerosis (Boca Raton, Parthenon, 2003) and (with G W Bruyn) he wrote The history of tropical neurology; nutritional disorders (Canton, Mass., Science History Publications, 2003) and An illustrated history of malaria (New York, Parthenon, 1999). In 1983 he was responsible for a new set of criteria to diagnose multiple sclerosis replacing the older Schumacher system. These were held to be the most reliable method of diagnosis for nearly 20 years until McDonald et al published new criteria based on recent technology in 2001.

Outside medicine he had many other interests. He had a fascinating sea shell collection and his collection of international military insignia and badges eventually found a home in the National Museum of Health and Medicine at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. A talented sculptor, he loved entertaining and enjoying good food and wine. His empathy was such that many long term patients and their families came to regard him as a personal friend.

He married Joan née Crawford in 1950 and they had recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary when he died. She survived him, together with their sons, William and Nicholas, and grandson Benjamin.

RCP editor

[Columbia magazine; Stern Centre for Language and Learning - both accessed1 July 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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