Louis Solomon

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 01 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7359
  1. Evert Smith

Louis Solomon was the well-mannered son of a grain dealer, a country boy who spent his childhood swimming in the “spruits” of the Orange River and playing in the heat and dust of his home town, Keimoes in the North Western Cape of South Africa. His mother, Anne, a Glaswegian, taught him the importance of art and culture, while his father, Solly, imparted the values of integrity, hard work, application, and humility.

In January 1942, when Louis was 13, he entered the South African College School (SACS) in Newlands, Cape Town. He was an outstanding student and completed matriculation at age 17, leaving the school in December 1945. He was awarded the Victoria Memorial (University) scholarship to study medicine at the University of Cape Town, where he won the prize for general surgery in 1950 and obtained his MBChB in 1951. He worked as a houseman at Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, under George Sacks; then as a houseman at Baragwanath Hospital in Johannesburg. He also did a housemanship in anaesthetics. From Baragwanath he went to Upington in the North Western Cape for three years, where he worked as a general practitioner, doing his own operations and gaining a huge amount of experience. During this time he procured and introduced an anaesthetic machine into the Upington country hospital and taught the GPs there how to use it. He returned to Johannesburg and worked at the Non-European Hospital (NEH) in the dark days of apartheid, before going to the United Kingdom to train as an orthopaedic surgeon.

Between 1957 and 1962, Louis undertook specialist training in orthopaedic surgery at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, London. In 1962-63 he had an Arthritis Council fellowship at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. Throughout this time, he also worked to obtain a doctorate in medicine (MD), which he was awarded in 1963 from the University of Cape Town. In 1967, aged 38, he was appointed professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), the youngest ever professor of an orthopaedic department. In 1983, he received an award for being the most distinguished teacher at Wits medical school.

He was honoured with many other awards for his orthopaedic achievements, including the Leipoldt Memorial medal from the South African Medical Association in 1955; the Geigy travelling fellowship from the Empire Rheumatism Council London 1960; the President’s medal and prize from the South African Orthopaedic Association 1964; the Robert Jones medal and prize from the British Orthopaedic Association 1966; and the Smith and Nephew prize of the South African Orthopaedic Association 1967, 1974, and 1978. He contributed to the advancement of treatment for arthritis and rheumatism throughout his career as an active member of many orthopaedic societies, including as the inaugural president of the South African Rheumatism and Arthritis Association between 1966 and 1968. He was a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery from 1989 to 1993.

A prolific published author, Louis was well known for his expertise in arthritis. As his indefatigable reputation grew throughout his career, he became an internationally renowned figure and frequently featured at orthopaedic congresses throughout the world, where his many academic papers were presented.

He published three textbooks on orthopaedic surgery; the most notable was Apley’s System of Orthopaedics and Fractures, published in 1982, of which he was senior author, and which became a standard issue publication for orthopaedic surgeons. He went on to publish the Concise System of Orthopaedics and Fractures, from the original publication, for use by medical students.

His life was absorbed with orthopaedic issues and his commitment to his family. He gained nourishment from good debate on any and every subject. Louis was also a keen rugby fan who took sport very seriously, having developed a passion for this during his time at SACS where he played fly half for the rugby first team.

After his death, the original score of the SACS school anthem was found among his papers. This unique document was restored to the school at the request of his family.

Louis Solomon married Joan before completing his medical degree and leaves her, their three children (son Ryan, daughters Caryn and Joyce), and four granddaughters.

Louis was a modest man who was adored and respected by his family and all those who came into contact with him. He was described as loving, supportive, playful, fun, dependable, and inspiring by all who knew him. His surviving children regard having had Louis and Joan as parents as a “gift.”

Louis trained and developed countless successful orthopaedic surgeons who now practise all over the world. He instilled in them his passion, dedication, and professionalism. He was known to offer words of wisdom often, and in situations of frustration and uncertainty, one of his favourite statements was “If you only have lemons then make lemonade.”

He was a true “guru,” who will continue to be an inspiration to future generations of orthopaedic professionals.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7359


  • Emeritus professor of orthopaedic surgery University of Bristol (b 1928; q 1951; MD, ), d 19 August 2014.

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