Gerald’s son Dr Kevin Lampert writes: Our late father, Gerald Lampert, graduated with the Class of 1960. He passed away on September 19, 1998 at the age of 61.
High school days and rugby scars were shared with Gary Katz and Leonard Kahn. After serving as Head Boy and matriculating from Highlands North Boys High, he entered Wits Medical School, the first person in his extended family to attend university.
In the picture above of Highlands North Rugby Team, 1953. Gerald Lampert sits third from left; Gary Katz stands back row third from left.
After slogging through the first year of Chemistry and Physics, like everyone else, the prospect of actually becoming a doctor was on the horizon. The demanding but rewarding days of his six years of medical school were shared with his firm of close friends, colleagues and dissecting partners: Gary Katz, Len Kahn, Aubrey Milunsky, Dennis Rossouw and Farrel Sims.
In first year, dissecting a rat in Gary Katz’s mother’s laundry room launched their anatomy education, as well as Gary’s mother’s fury. Preclinical years my father and Len worked as a close pair. Len had a microscope at home, and they would review pathology slides from the standard issue brown wood slide box that all third-year students have been provided with since the dawn of mankind. They became so proficient that during lab sessions they were soon answering classmates’ questions who valued their opinions. My dad would race Len to the answer but ultimately Len became the expert, specializing in Pathology with a Professorship.
In the words of Len Kahn, our dad Gerald was an “inveterate prankster”. Len tells the story that one day in second year, during anatomy dissection, there were no invigilators on duty. My dad took the opportunity to perfectly imitate Raymond Dart’s booming, gruff, Australian accent to exhort everyone to dissect the fragile cutaneous peripheral nerves with their fingers, rather than impersonal scalpels. The dissectors were already intimidated by their famous Chairman of Anatomy, how much more so when they heard that thundering voice.
I learned from Len Kahn that the only class my dad and his firm failed was Home Nursing. Besides being able to complete basic nursing skills they were also required to make up beds perfectly. They failed on the bed making. My siblings and I never knew this story but as children we certainly were trained how to square the corners of our bed from our dad, a skill he had learned the hard way.
The rigours of Medical School were punctuated with budget summer holidays in Durban at the Rydall Mount Hotel. A cultural foray at the Edward Hotel to listen to the lobby pianist culminated with them being ceremoniously evicted. They once hitched a ride down the Marine Parade in the back of a police Bakkie pretending with cries of help, banging on the sides of the van.
Our dad was always looking for ways to earn an extra buck. Wednesday afternoons were spent at the Turffontein racetrack as a bookie’s assistant. He balanced the bookie work by working in a bookshop, probably thinking that the two jobs at least seemed phonetically alike. Saturday mornings were spent as a cashier in a liquor store, and Saturday afternoons were back to Turffontein. The months of April were spent with Gary at the Rand Easter show as wine stewards, where they rushed between medical school and Milner Park.
In those days it was possible to sell your blood for cash, which he regularly did. He realised that source of income needed to come to an end when he fainted on a dance floor after one of his exsanguination visits. And in later years, he and Gary worked as male nurses at West Rand Mines Hospital, where he told us he learned to suture and apply Plaster of Paris from a maestro P.O.P technician.
Upon graduation, his house-job year was spent at Coronation Hospital split with Professor Grieve in Medicine and Professor Tanner in Surgery. He spent an additional six months in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital.
Soon after completing his house-job he married our mother, Juliet, started a family, and promptly began a lifetime career of General Practice. As children, we were regaled with stories of his pre and early postgraduate experiences, working first as a male nurse and then locum tenens as a Mines Doctor. His stories were brought to life with cross-sectional sketches of mine shafts and beautifully annotated explanations of deep level mining, its risks, and physiological hardships endured by miners. His renderings were drawn in black ballpoint with the same trademark calligraphy penmanship that he was able to maintain throughout his life.
In this picture are: Julie (née Lewison), Gerald and Steven, their firstborn son, October 1961.
He ultimately hung his shingle in the Eastern suburbs of Johannesburg: Brixton, Crosby, Triomf, Mayfair, Westdene and Newlands, speaking effortless Afrikaans to his patients. We occasionally heard our father say in a wistful, non-lamenting way, that if he had not had started a family so soon after graduating, he might have specialised in Paediatrics. But regardless of how our dad made his way into General Practice, he devoted himself to it with passion and dedication, until one year before his passing.
He may be remembered by some from Medical School as a chubby lad with curly, strawberry-blonde hair. His hair colour never changed, but his physique certainly did. In the early 70’s he became hooked with the game of squash which he played daily for five years until he suffered a wrist injury. He was close friends with the late Dr Jack Adno, the gynaecologist, who encouraged him to start long distance running as an alternative to the game of squash with his injured wrist.
From our mother’s perspective, this was probably the very worst advice that anyone had given our father. He took Jack’s recommendation seriously and instead of dabbling in running until his wrist healed, he immersed himself in this fledgling sport, embarking on a lifetime of long-distance running. He would leave the house, rain or shine, at 4:00 in the morning and run 16 to 20 miles before work. In his running lifetime, besides covering almost twice the circumference of our earth, he had run countless marathons and 13 Comrades Marathons in which he was awarded 7 silver finishes. His fastest marathon time was 2:38, which remained the South African record for his age group for several years.
His commitment to exercise was spurred by the memory of his father who died unexpectedly at the age of 51 from a myocardial infarct, three weeks before our parents wedding.
Our father adamantly promised himself and his family that unlike his father, he had no intention of dying young. Unfortunately, our dad was not able to keep his promise. He developed Catastrophic Antiphospholpid Antibody Syndrome, a rare autoimmune coagulopathy.
He was only moderately affected for about three years, but during his last year he endured three ICU admissions until he ultimately succumbed.
We don’t know how you might remember our dad as a medical student, but as a father he was an effervescent personality with a mischievous, boyish sense of humour. Our dad had a positive, sunny disposition. He was humble and appreciated daily the frailties of life and the randomness of luck. He was a champion of the underdog and impressed on us the importance of honesty and civility. He was always deeply moved when he came across disabled individuals, and especially handicapped children.
He was proud to be a doctor and saw it as an honour to be able to use his art to care for the sick.
He was proud to be a Wits graduate and spoke fondly of those formative years. Wits University Medical School produced generations of the world’s finest physicians, so many of whom were his classmates, and who had left South Africa. But the six years of Medical School also produced genuine friendships, with bonds that have endured the test of time, and weathered the thousands of miles of separation.
What a loss this was to South Africa, but what beautiful memories remain.
Gerald Lampert MB BCh
Johannesburg Profile contributed by Dr Kevin Lampert, Gerald’s son, May 2020.