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Neville Woolf

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: (Published 29 October 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l6259
  1. David Katz

Neville Woolf was a respected pathologist and a dedicated educator and mentor, who made important research contributions to our understanding of the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Over almost 50 years he had an important role in three London institutions: St George’s Hospital Medical School, the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, and University College London.

Neville was born in Cape Town and studied medicine at the University of Cape Town. His original intention was to spend a short period in pathology before embarking on a surgical career, but several factors intervened (although much later he became an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons). Firstly, his interest was aroused in the accurate observation and reporting of pathological findings, and in how this approach could lead on to asking novel questions about underlying disease mechanisms. Secondly, the charismatic reader in the pathology department, Golda Selzer, became a mentor and friend, who encouraged him by her example of combining experimentation with clinical practice, and with engagement with students in an empathic way. Furthermore he developed lifelong friendships with others—such as the Sacks brothers, Martin and Theo—who shared his curiosity about how disease evolves.

An important element from his South African period, which he believed inspired not only him but also his friends—such as Barry Lewis and Gerry Shaper, who had similar experiences—was a very simple direct observation. There was as much atherosclerosis among the white South African population as there was in Europe and the USA. There was none in the African population. He never did an autopsy at the University of Cape Town on an African with coronary heart disease.

During the late 1950s the traditional pattern of postgraduate training in the UK for South African doctors shifted significantly. Many young doctors continued …

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