Martin Seifert: Greatly admired physician who became an authority on arthritis over 30 years at London's St Mary's Hospital
Friday 22 November 2013
The rheumatologist Martin Seifert was an avid collector of books and art, a knowledgeable gardener (at the old Oxfordshire village house his family has had for the past 18 years) and a regular opera and concert-goer (he especially loved Handel). He had an eye for porcelain as well as pictures, and a vast circle of devoted friends, many of them artists and writers.
Born in 1939 into a high-achieving North London Jewish family of doctors, lawyers, showbiz professionals and the architect of London's Centre Point building, he was educated at Highgate School, as were some of his 40 first cousins. His paternal grandfather, Wolf, brought the family from Switzerland to England, where his wife had most of their 10 children, and he ended up owning a cinema; his maternal grandfather was cantor at the Philpot Street Great Synagogue (Martin's barrister son, Benjamin, a baritone, has performed professionally in opera.)
From 1974-2007 Martin was consultant rheumatologist at St Mary's Hospital, London. Though London teaching hospitals are known for their political conflicts, he kept well above them, much strengthening his department. One professor said that he "never heard a harsh word spoken of him," adding that this was not something you could say of many colleagues at St Mary's. Another said that he was "a truly good man, an excellent doctor" and one of the few colleagues he felt he could trust. He was the doctors' choice of rheumatologist for their own families. He took time to listen to his patients and discover what they thought their problems were, and enabled people to manage their disease over long periods of time.
His father, Max, was a GP in Palmer's Green, and the family lived in Winchmore Hill. His family say that Martin had his mother, Sophie's, gentle disposition, and in childhood acquired a capacity for making things look easy – though, in fact, he was disciplined and happy to work hard. His sister, Linda, qualified as a lawyer and is a literary agent for writers, director and producers; his non-identical twin, Alan (who died in 2000), also read law, and managed pop singers.
With his strong visual sensibility, in his dream job Seifert would have been a museum curator –though he always wanted to practice medicine, and his father urged him to become a hospital doctor, as general practice was so tough. Taking his MB BS at London Hospital Medical College, he continued his training at several other hospitals, starting in 1965.
Just before noon on 18 September 1970, when on duty on the casualty ward at St Mary Abbot's, an ambulance crew rushed someone into the resus room. Pace the conspiracy theories, Seifert's evidence says that he "was put on a monitor, but it was flat… as he was dead. I vaguely remember the clothes being flamboyant... [though] we didn't know he was Jimi Hendrix until later on."
In 1974 he joined St Mary's as consultant rheumatologist and from 1975-84 was also consultant physician at the Charterhouse Rheumatism Clinic London. His special interests were inflammatory joint disease, soft tissue rheumatology, infection and arthritis. In 1980 he became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.
During the 1980s, Seifert did original research on HIV and arthritis, collaborating with immunologists at St Mary's, and later Imperial College. Highlights of his career included his appointment as the Royal College of Physicians' regional adviser in medicine for the Northwest Thames region, from 1991-95, and several other subsequent positions with the RCP until 2003; the presidency (1989) of the rheumatology and rehabilitation section of the Royal Society of Medicine, and later other positions.
He cherished his several associations with the oldest institution, the Medical Society of London, and gave the presidential address in 2003 on the historical aspects of medicine and gout; his interest in art history enabled him to illustrate it with a fine selection of 18th and 19th century cartoons. In 1996 he was the British Society for Rheumatology's Heberden Rounds-man, a presentation by a distinguished clinician, illustrated with case studies.
In November 1974 he married Dr Jackie Morris, daughter of another prominent medical man, Professor Norman Morris. Appointed in 1979 to St Mary's as consultant physician in geriatric medicine, Jackie met Seifert by "gate-crashing his leaving party in 1972, before he went to America" to work in Denver the next year. She knew he was the man she was going to marry when she first set eyes on him, and they had a long, happy marriage with equal professional standing and shared tastes and interests.
Seifert began collecting books when he was nine. Highgate was then well-stocked with booksellers, which he frequented going to and from school. "The hard part," Jackie said, "was getting the parcels home without his parents' noticing." Seifert couldn't remember whether the first picture he bought, in his first year as a medical student, was a Hockney print or the one by Picasso he found on the floor of a Paris junk shop. Recently he had been buying 18th and 19th-century portraits from the Portobello Road dealers who had all become friends, as well as exquisite china, with which he was fond of setting the dinner table.
Martin Howard Seifert, rheumatologist: born London 16 November 1939; married 1974 Jacqueline Evelyn Morris (one daughter, one son); died London 14 November 2013.
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