Obituary: Dr Mosie Suzman
Tuesday 19 July 1994
TO SOME Mosie Suzman was known as the doctor's doctor - a physician of international repute whose fine and restless mind constantly challenged medical orthodoxies. He brought a pioneering spirit to such diverse fields as haematology, cardiology and psychiatry.
Suzman's medical research and clinical practice gained him international recognition and a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to Harvard. He was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in London, an honorary fellow of its American counterpart and a fellow of the American College of Cardiologists. The University of the Witwatersrand gave him an honorary doctorate and a lifetime of creative teaching. Generations of Wits medical students found him inspiring, awesome and warm.
His wife Helen Suzman, perhaps South Africa's most famous MP, said this week: 'Whenever I travelled abroad, some doctor would come to me and say: 'I learnt all my medicine in Ward 11 of Johannesburg General Hospital from Mosie.' '
What set Mosie Suzman apart was his refusal to accept conventional wisdom as absolute. Voracious reading and an encyclopaedic memory combined to make him a formidable destroyer of pet medical theories. Yet it was gently done, for he was a mild man with a wry humour who would argue the case for smoking his cherished cigars as firmly as he would challenge cant.
His patients loved him for his compassion and meticulous attention to detail. Not for him the glib diagnosis, the quick fix. 'He took infinite trouble to reach his own conclusions,' said one colleague.
Suzman maintained a private practice for nearly a quarter of century after his formal retirement at 65, continuing to read hungrily and write prolifically. A steady stream of authoritative papers on a range of medical subjects came from his pen. Ahead of his time in many ways, he saw it as a pleasant duty to think innovatively. He developed the use of beta blockers as a means of treating anxiety and
hyperventilation long before the technique became generally accepted.
A medical associate remembers: 'He always had a new angle on things. He would never accept orthodox dogma uncritically. He could spot trends in medical thinking and used his vast knowledge to identify and develop them. He was never afraid to knock the establishment. In the days when he ran two wards at the Johannesburg General Hospital he would delight in taking a contrary view at our medical meetings. Often he proved to be right.'
Suzman was born in Johannesburg in 1904. His father was a wholesaler who had come to South Africa from Lithuania in the 1880s. He attended Wits University before moving to Durham University, Massachusetts General Hospital and Thorndike Memorial Laboratory in Boston. During the Second World War he saw action in Egypt, where he commanded the 106 Medical Unit of the South African General Hospital.
Mosie Suzman was more than just an outstanding physician. He loved the arts, Persian carpets, music, books, conversation, good food, wine and sport. He had a thirst to explore and a theory for everything. He was married for more than 50 years to Helen Suzman, that doughty fighter for liberalism and civil rights in South Africa, and shared her passion for a just society. Somehow he found the time to attend each of his wife's 36 annual report-back meetings to her constituency during her fighting years in parliament.
They had two daughters, Mrs Frances Jowell and Dr Patricia Suzman, and two grandchildren.
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