MB BS Sydney (1966) MRACP (1971) FRACP (1975) BA Hons (1995) MSc (1997) PhD (2005) FRCP (2019)
b. 26 Nov 1940 d. 5 Oct 2019
Charles George, physician, nephrologist and medical historian, was born on 26 November 1940 in Killara, New South Wales, Australia. He died in London on 5 October 2019 after emergency surgery for infective endocarditis.
He was born fourteen months after the outbreak of the Second World War, six weeks after his father had left with his army unit for the Middle East. He first met his father when he was three years old. He was educated at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School and graduated from The University of Sydney (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) in 1966 having undertaken his clinical training at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s Clinical School. Unbeknown to him, his wife to be was at that graduation witnessing her brother receiving his degree. Fifty three years later she was at his FRCP ceremony in London on 10th September 2019. He had planned to be a country GP but reckoned his fiancée was a “city girl” so decided to train as a physician. He obtained his Membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1971 and was made a Fellow in 1975. He had come to nephrology by chance. After applying for a medical post that had already been filled he was asked by the Medical Superintendent of Sydney Hospital whether he would like to work for a spell in nephrology a subject he had never heard of. He asked his surgical boss at Parramatta Hospital what nephrology was. “It must be kidneys, my boy.” That spell lasted 50 years ending the day he died at the age of 78 for he never retired.
Nephrology was a barely established medical subspecialty when he started his career. Haemodialysis had just become available and renal transplantation was in its infancy. He worked as a Senior Fellow from 1972-1974 in Seattle for the haemodialysis pioneer Dr. Belding Scribner and then at Guy’s Hospital in 1974-1975 with Professor Stewart Cameron and Dr Chisholm Ogg. After an interview in London he was appointed to a post at Concord Repatriation Hospital where he worked for the rest of his life. He served on the Research Ethics Committee from 1988 until his death. He was a true general nephrologist who did whatever was needed for the service and his patients. He established a transplant unit and home haemodialysis programme but he could bat on any clinical wicket and was considered a shrewd diagnostician. He was an old style physician taking a careful interest in both the illnesses and lives of his patients. Consultations were said to be wide-ranging, longer than scheduled and often straying from the immediate clinical issues. He was a member of a legion of international, national and local professional societies and bodies and served on many of their committees and advisory boards. He had strong opinions and would I guess have expressed them courteously and not always concisely!
There was a scholarly side to his life and he admitted to a pedantic streak. He was very precise in his use of language and did not hesitate to speak at length on the important distinctions in the meanings of words that others think interchangeable. This led to his PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science in 2005. The title was “Disease explicated and Disease defined.” His particular interest was history of medicine and especially nephrology. He was a foundation member of the International Association of History of Nephrology (IAHN) and its President 2002-2005. He regularly presented his work at its meetings which gave him an excuse to travel to Europe and the UK. He collected rare books on the kidney, the older the better, and researched meticulously the origins of theories of renal diseases and their treatment. He was determined that unsung and unpublished heroes should get credit for their work. He always went to the source data spending time in the British Library, the Wellcome Library and applying for access to old publications in unlikely places. He managed to get a description of plasma exchange from a library in Moscow and paid handsomely to have it translated. His most recent projects were on the life of Sir Graham Bull FRCP, and “The Rise and Fall of Acute Tubular Necrosis”; and the first description in 1923 of what was later to be called haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS), in a British soldier who died in Thessaloniki in 1918. He presented his paper on this work, at the 11th Congress of IAHN in Larissa Greece on 13th September 2019.
He had a sabbatical in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, Oxford in 1987 garnering material for his PhD. In 1995 he read for a BA(Hons) producing a thesis on William Charles Wells a “Scottish Enlightenment Tory” and in 1997, an MSc on the “Early development of clinical dialysis: the importance of symbolism in successful scientific endeavours.” The PhD followed in 2005.
Although a proud but critical Australian, he was an anglophile and a respecter of British history and traditions. He was entitled to British citizenship and so applied for, and obtained it. He had a pied à terre in Oxford which was used as a base for his scholarly excursions. It was during these visits that we turned our acquaintance into true friendship. When we met we bored our wives to sleep with anecdotes and cases all with a renal flavour. He was in his element when he came to dine at high table at Jesus College where he was among academics with a similar style of discourse. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians on September 10th 2019 where his interests were modestly described by the Registrar, himself a nephrologist, and he dined in the Osler Room with four of his Fellow friends. The last words he shared with us were to describe his feeling of honour to have been recognised by the College for international contributions to his field and his special link with British medicine. Before he went to theatre for his surgery it was a young British cardiology registrar who comforted him by saying, “Perhaps it is now time to look back with pride at what you have achieved.” He will have known the peril he was in but was sustained by his deep Christian faith. His funeral and Requiem Mass were celebrated by his friend, the Bishop of the Murray, South Australia, The Right Reverend Keith Dalby.
He married Elizabeth Gordon Smith, a medical records librarian on 27th December 1967. She took the role of keeper of the show on the road, smoother of life’s wrinkles and gentle rein upon his exuberance. There are four surviving children: Alexandra, an academic lawyer; Robert, a medical microbiologist; Andrew, a barrister; and Sophia, who inspired by her father’s legacy, is now pursuing a career in Speech Language Pathology. There are six grandchildren, some of whom are too young to have got to know their remarkable grandfather very well.