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BMJ. 2007 June 9; 334(7605): 1228.
PMCID: PMC1889931

David Mendel

Tall and of distinguished appearance, David Mendel was at first sight a typical London teaching hospital cardiologist of his time. He was indeed an excellent cardiologist and good teacher, but the breadth of his interests and diversity of talents, together with a great gift for humour, made him a little different.

David was born in London in 1922. On leaving school he had no clear career plans, and surprisingly was not entirely confident of his abilities. He enlisted in the wartime army but was invalided out after a serious injury. There followed an unsatisfactory period in the family business, for which he had little appetite, and by his own admission no great aptitude. Almost on impulse he presented himself to Barts enquiring how he might become a medical student and to his great surprise and enduring gratitude was accepted, qualifying in 1948. His early career was interrupted by tuberculosis, requiring six months bed rest, after which he persuaded his father to subsidise the purchase of a small car and a Michelin guide so that he might eat his way back to health in France rather than take his chances with the grim post-war English cuisine. This worked, and David was to return to one of the restaurants so discovered for more than 50 years.

David held a variety of junior appointments, including posts at The London and Barts, and became interested in cardiology and respiratory physiology, subsequently joining the medical unit at Birmingham, where among other things he worked on the development of a respirator for miners. He was appointed registrar at the National Heart Hospital, then at the forefront of rapid advances in cardiology and cardiac catheterisation. It was there that he refined the considerable diagnostic skills that characterised the cardiologists of his generation. In 1960 he moved to St Thomas', initially as senior lecturer and then consultant from 1964, to develop a modern department, particularly a cardiac catheter laboratory. There he remained until retirement in 1986. In the latter part of career he became interested in clinical pharmacology, and spent a sabbatical in Vaughan Williams' department in Oxford, subsequently studying the pharmacology of hearing.

He wrote two textbooks. The first, The Practice of Cardiac Catheterisation (1968), was an authoritative account of current practice, and was widely read. The second, Proper Doctoring (1986), was a personal thesis on being a doctor. He believed that doctors learnt much from what he termed the “spoken “ tradition of medicine, and often talked with warmth of those who had so influenced him—notably, Geoffrey Evans, William Evans, Graham Hayward, Wallace Brigden, and Paul Wood. In this book he attempted, largely successfully, to communicate these usually unwritten lessons.

Early in his career he was an active member of the Cardiac Society, but as its meetings became ever larger and it lost intimacy so it appealed less. He turned to the Junior Cardiac Club, then a research forum for young cardiologists, where his acumen was appreciated greatly, and his humour often lead to prolonged helpless laughter of all present.

Outside medicine David had many talents. He was an accomplished flautist and notable craftsman. He made furniture, worked with silver, built an extension to his cottage, and constructed a small swimming pool. But his real love was the world of letters. He was widely read and interested in ideas, and would have been labelled an intellectual in cultures where that is a compliment. After retirement he studied Italian at the University of Kent in Canterbury, becoming a fluent speaker and sensitive translator. He had a long correspondence with his friend the distinguished Italian writer Primo Levi, with whom David felt a close affinity. His translations of Levi's work were well received. After Levi's tragic death David wrote his obituary and several articles about his life and works and became involved in the debate about whether Levi had committed suicide. David was an occasional broadcaster, and read several of his works on BBC Radio 3.

After retirement David travelled extensively, particularly to Italy, but spent much of his time in his isolated cottage in Kent. He continued to exercise another great gift; friendship. Longstanding relationships were kept in good repair. Always interesting, usually extremely amusing, and occasionally infuriating, his company or even phone calls were important to his many friends. He and his wife Meg were splendid hosts, particularly in their simple but delightful cottage in Kent.

For nearly 20 years David enjoyed this active retirement. Then sadly his health failed, his capabilities reduced further by a bad fall. The last year of his life was marred by pain, frailty, and declining powers. He bore this was great courage. He became a Stoic. He was cared for with devotion and selflessness by Meg at their London home with the help of their two daughters. There were still occasional flashes of humour, his face lighting up in its characteristic way, if only briefly. This much loved, gifted, and imaginative man died peacefully at home on 10 March 2007.

Notes

Former consultant cardiologist St Thomas' Hospital, London (b 4 March 1922; q St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, 1948; FRCP), d 10 March 2007.


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