Joseph Norman Blau

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 05 August 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4246
  1. Anne MacGregor

    Born in Berlin, Joseph Norman Blau (“Nat”) escaped to England at the start of the second world war. His Polish parents and sister were later captured and shot by the Nazis. Deciding to study medicine, he secured an open science scholarship to St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School. After national service, a Nuffield Medical Scholarship took him to Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, where he studied the thymus. Returning to London, he continued his MD research on Hassall’s corpuscles at Guy’s Hospital, supported by an MRC grant, while also working as a consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases.

    His clinical training was under Lord Brain. During this time he met Dr Marcia Wilkinson, with whom he shared a common personal affliction with migraine. In 1980 Marcia invited him to join her in opening the City of London Migraine Clinic, a registered medical charity. He volunteered to work a day a week as a consultant neurologist at the clinic until ill health forced him to retire just six months before his death. A driving force behind the fundraising, he wrote personal letters to heads of City organisations highlighting disability from migraine and requesting donations to the charity. More often than not, he received a personal reply accompanied by a cheque.

    He was a popular and eloquent speaker, with invitations from all parts of the globe. He was active in the lay organisation Migraine Action (formerly the British Migraine Association) and was their honorary medical adviser from 1980 to 2007. He served on council of the neurological section of the Royal Society of Medicine and the Anglo-Dutch Migraine Association. Between 1994 and 1996 he was chairman of the British Association for the Study of Headache.

    Always focusing on the patient’s symptoms to help him to understand the pathophysiology, he often said: “Listen to the patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.” His first paper on migraine was published in 1955. He went on to publish over 100 papers in scientific journals, as well as numerous book chapters, a highly respected textbook on migraine, and a book for the lay reader. He will be most remembered for his seminal papers on migraine precipitants, the phases of migraine attacks, and behaviour during cluster headache, as well as identifying three new headaches.

    He died after a long battle with prostate cancer. He is survived by his wife, Jill; three children; and four grandchildren.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4246


    • Former consultant neurologist National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London; Royal National Throat, Nose, and Ear Hospital, London; Northwick Park Hospital; and Medical Research Centre Harrow, Middlesex; honorary consultant neurologist and medical director City of London Migraine Clinic (b 1928; q St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, 1952; MD, FRCP, FRCPath), died from prostate cancer on 26 June 2010.

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