Lives of the fellows

Henry Urich

b.15 August 1916 d.9 November 2015
MB ChB Polish School of Medicine(1943) MRCP(1946) MRCS LRCP(1947) MD Bristol(1958) MRCPath(1963) FRCPath(1972) FRCP(1973)

Henry Urich was professor of neuropathology at the London Hospital Medical School. He was born in Vienna to Joachim Urich, a medical practitioner, and Maria Urich née Rosenstock, the daughter of a landowner, but his early life and education were in Lwów, where his family had their home. Lwów was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was an important, cultural city.

Henry began his medical training at the Jan Kazimierz University in Lwów in 1934 and had completed five years of the course before the Nazis invaded Poland, an act of aggression which made him decide to postpone his medical career and join the Polish Army. To achieve this, he had to travel to France and once there was placed in the Military Medical Cadet Officers’ School in Combourg.

Following the fall of France, he was evacuated to England, where he joined the 1st (Polish) Independent Parachute Brigade of General Stanislaw Sosabowski. He was sent to the newly-formed Polish School of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh to complete his medical studies and qualified in 1943. At Edinburgh he was clinical assistant to Stanley Davidson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.136] and, briefly, resident house officer.

He then rejoined his unit as a regimental medical officer. As such he took part in Operation Market Garden, seeing action in the Driel area of the Netherlands. Henry remained with the Army in occupied Germany until 1947.

Having gained his membership of the Royal College of Physicians in 1946, once he was demobilised he returned to England to become the resident medical officer at the City Isolation Hospital in Plymouth. He was then a senior medical registrar in the South Devon and East Cornwall Hospital for three years before deciding to continue his career in pathology.

After completing three years in general pathology, in 1955 Henry was appointed as a research assistant to the Burden Neuropathological Laboratory in Bristol under its director R M Norman [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.361]. He was a Nuffield scholar and developed an interest in developmental and neonatal neuropathology, which Norman had done much to promote. Henry published his MD thesis entitled ‘The arterial factor in cerebral birth injury’ in 1958. This interest in developmental neuropathology remained throughout his long career and the last paper bearing his name appeared in 2001 dealing with dysmorphic features associated with X-linked microcephaly and cerebellar cortical dysplasia in an infant born to consanguineous parents (‘Lethal X-linked microcephaly with dysmorphic features, bilateral optic pathway aplasia and normal eyes. Acta Neuropathol. 2001 Oct;102[4]:393-7). During his time at the Burden Laboratory he was co-author with Norman of some 20 publications dealing with various aspects of developmental neuropathology. He later contributed the chapter on the subject in the third edition of Greenfield’s neuropathology (Arnold, London, 1976).

In 1959 Henry was appointed as a lecturer in pathology at the London Hospital Medical College and, in 1960, as a senior lecturer in neuropathology after the departure of Lucien Rubinstein to the Montefiore Hospital, New York. Dorothy Russell [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.510] was the professor of morbid anatomy and had established neuropathology as a specialty in the college following the appointment of Sir Hugh Cairns and the subsequent development of a neurosurgical unit at the hospital. Israel Doniach [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.162] succeeded Dorothy Russell on her retirement in 1964. In 1968 Henry was made professor of neuropathology and, in 1973, was elected as a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

Both Henry and Israel Doniach were men with European backgrounds and wide cultural interests and ran a department of great distinction. They were both outstanding teachers and were always present and actively involved in the discussion at the lunchtime autopsy demonstrations. Henry was always ready to spend time with any junior member of the department who showed an interest in neuropathology and would encourage them to accompany him to the then biannual meetings of the British Neuropathological Society. He was a familiar figure at these meetings and was often invited to comment on the cases presented.

While his interests included neurosarcoidosis and diseases of the peripheral nervous system, he was increasingly recognised as an authority on brain tumours. In addition, the wide range of pathology seen at the London had given him the opportunity to study the effects of primary tumours elsewhere in the body on the nervous system. Together with R A Henson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.211], he published a series of papers on the remote effects of malignant disease on the nervous system and on the neoplastic neuromyopathies. Their work culminated in 1982 in the joint publication of the monograph Cancer and the nervous system: the neurological manifestations of systemic malignant disease (Oxford, Blackwell Scientific).

Henry retired from the London Hospital Medical College in 1976. Having maintained professional contacts with centres of neuropathology throughout the world, he spent the next two years as a visiting lecturer or professor at various institutions, initially in India and then in Australia and New Zealand. In the years between 1978 and 1990, apart from a spell in 1989 as visiting professor at the University of Düsseldorf, he was to be found in Lucien Rubinstein’s department of neuropathology, first at Stanford University, California, and later at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. In both places he took a prominent role in the running of the departments, acting as deputy during Rubinstein’s periods of absence. Following Lucien Rubinstein’s death in 1990, he continued to be actively involved in neuropathology in Australia and was visiting professor at the University of Western Australia, Perth on four occasions, and the Sir Hugh Cairns memorial lecturer at the University of Adelaide.

During his professional life, Henry Urich contributed seven chapters in standard textbooks and was either author or co-author of 113 publications on a wide variety of subjects of neuropathological interest. He was a member of the British Neuropathological Society from its early days and held memberships of the Australian and New Zealand, the Swiss and the French societies.

Henry was a cultured man with many interests. He had a wide knowledge of history, music, food, fine wines and visual arts. To accompany him to a neuropathology meeting would almost certainly include being made aware of the best features of the local art gallery. He was a generous host and those invited to his Harrow home would enjoy the benefits of his cooking and wine cellar. They could also admire his collection of fine Chinese porcelain and a bust of himself. The latter, now in the collection of the Polish School of Medicine in Edinburgh, was a gift from his friend Jakub Rostowski who was a distinguished sculptor as well as being one-time professor of neurology in Lwów and later director of the Polish School of Medicine.

Throughout his active life, Henry always maintained a high level of physical fitness. He was an enthusiastic skier, walker and intrepid swimmer and had travelled widely. In June 2008 he was returning from visiting his only remaining relative in Poland when he fell on entering his home. He was discovered still where he fell some days later when he failed to appear for a lunch engagement. He was admitted to hospital and gradually improved enough to return home, but never fully recovered. He remained in danger of falling, but would explain that his parachute training had equipped him to fall safely. His horizons began progressively to narrow and visitors to his home could never be sure whether they would be addressed in English, Polish or German. As he wished, he died peacefully in his home after finishing his breakfast, less than a year before his 100th birthday.

J E McLaughlin

(Volume XII, page web)

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