Professor Sir Raymond (Bill) Hoffenberg was born in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Province (now Eastern Cape) on 16 March 1923. He went to school in Port Elizabeth and excelled at sport. Later in life, he excelled at squash and golf.
He was a bright pupil at school; twice he jumped years and he matriculated at 15. He was too young to go to university, so he did an extra year at school; his subjects included Greek and English literature, and he always remained grateful to his English teacher, David Miller. Miller was the only schoolteacher he named in his brief and unrevised autobiography he wrote for his family and he credited him for instilling in him an informed love of books.
At the age of 16, he entered the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Cape Town (UCT), as a first-year medical student. Two years later, he enlisted voluntarily in the South African Defence Force (SADF) and saw action in North Africa and Italy as a lance corporal. After the war, he resumed his medical studies and qualified with a medical degree at UCT in 1948.
After his internship with Professor Frank Forman, he spent a year as a registrar in the Pathology Department at UCT before specialising in clinical medicine. After completing his registrar training and working in the United Kingdom, where he obtained the MRCP (Membership of the Royal College of Physicians, a postgraduate medical diploma run by the Federation of the Medical Royal Colleges of the United Kingdom) he then won a Carnegie Fellowship to the United States of America in 1957.
In 1958, he was a senior researcher in endocrinology supported by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the forerunner of the Medical Research Council (MRC). He was appointed as a specialist and later as a senior specialist in the Department of Medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital, UCT. He distinguished himself as a clinician of great skill and with a deep regard for his patients. An outstanding teacher, he brought clarity and simplicity to clinical problems and was highly regarded by both his undergraduate and postgraduate students
Professor Hoffenberg excelled as a researcher in the areas of thyroid disease, albumin synthesis, protein-calorie malnutrition and calcium kinetics. Research in clinical endocrinology also earned him an international reputation and, together with the late WPU Jackson, he established the endocrinology department at UCT.
He was an active supporter of the Liberal Party of South Africa (LPSA) and a close friend of its chair, Peter Brown, who had also attended UCT as an ex-serviceman. He actively supported the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) and was Chair of the Advisory Committee to NUSAS. He had considerable influence with some of the student leadership at the Afrikaans medium Stellenbosch University, who found his integrity and concern for human rights very inspirational. This particularly angered the authorities of the time.
Professor Hoffenberg was a member of the Defence and Aid Fund and after the banning of two of its chairpersons. he occupied the chair. This was considered an act of courage, and he occupied this position when the government banned that organisation. He took the government to court over the banning and lost. In 1965, shortly after the family returned from a European holiday, his South African passport was confiscated. He was banned on 28 July 1967 and forbidden to have any contact with students, to teach, write or publish any material, and was confined to two magisterial districts. As a result, the restrictions prevented him from doing his work. Professor JF Brock led the protests against these banning orders. There were statements and a mass meeting convened by the Academic Freedom Committee and a meeting with the minister, the chancellor, the vice-chancellor, the chair of the Council, Harry Oppenheimer, JP Duminy, Clive Corder, and Brock – but these attempts were to no avail. In the end, UCT and its medical faculty were not sufficiently active in supporting Professor Hoffenberg to protest his banning. Even the Medical Association of South Africa (MASA) held a meeting, which was packed with government supporters. The College of Medicine’s Council was split down the middle.
In 1968, a patient was admitted to Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital where Professor Christiaan Barnard and his transplant team were awaiting a suitable donor for Dr Philip Blaaiberg, the patient chosen for their second attempt at heart transplantation. To the team's dismay, the physician in charge of the new patient declined to pronounce the new potential donor “dead.” Only after a late night visit to his unconscious patient, and another painstaking search for neurological reflexes the next morning, did he allow the procedure to go ahead. The physician who resisted the impatience of his surgical colleagues was Raymond “Bill” Hoffenberg, and the incident is noteworthy for two reasons. It revealed a concern for ethics that was to find many expressions in his career, and it was his last act as a doctor working in South Africa. That same day a banning order issued by the Apartheid government came into effect. Debarred from practising academic medicine in his own country, Hoffenberg and his wife, Margaret, emigrated to the United Kingdom (UK).
On 28 March 1968, Professor Hoffenberg and his family left South Africa for the UK on an exit permit and hundreds of medical students and staff were at the airport to say farewell. In exile he continued to campaign actively against Apartheid and, after a period at the Royal Free Hospital and Mill Hill Hospital, he was appointed William Withering Professor of Medicine at Birmingham University. He filled that position with great distinction, serving as head of the department from 1972 to 1985. He established a renowned thyroid clinic in Birmingham and gave strong leadership to the department and faculty. He was President of the Royal College of Physicians of London from 1983 to 1989, a post he held also with great distinction.
He was a co-signatory of a letter to The Times in London that criticised the British Government regarding its National Health Service, which resulted in a meeting with then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Professor Hoffenberg failed to convince her and was sure that the poorly thought-through policies resulted in a weakened health service.
In 1984, he became a Knight of the British Empire. He was President of Wolfson College, Oxford, from 1985 to 1993. His talent resulted in his Presidency of the International Society for Endocrinology, the Chair of the British Heart Foundation and of the Medical Campaign against Nuclear War. Colleagues of Professor Hoffenberg’s say that he was denied a Lordship because of his outspokenness on political matters, especially when they affected medical health issues. He was particularly close to the family of Oliver Tambo, then president of the African National Congress (ANC) Mission in exile.
Professor Hoffenberg married Margaret Rosenberg in 1949 and they had two sons. She was the first social worker in the Students' Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO), a student-run NGO based at the University of Cape Town. She was also active in Kupugani, a feeding scheme for the poor. She was equally actively opposed to Apartheid.
Hoffenberg was awarded a knighthood in 1984 for his contributions to British medicine. In 1993, UCT conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Science in Medicine honoris causa.
Hoffenberg never forgot his UCT roots. He served on the board of the UCT Trust in the UK, a registered charitable trust raising funds and support for the university in the UK and Europe.
Upon Professor Hoffenberg's retirement from Wolfson in 1993, he and Margaret moved to Queensland, Australia, where their sons had already settled. Here he was appointed Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Queensland from 1993 to 1995.
When Apartheid ended, Professor Hoffenberg was now able to return regularly to his home country. He re-established a link with South Africa in 1995 when he joined an advisory group to help rejuvenate academic medicine in the country. Professor Hoffenberg and Margaret also began to spend part of each year in Cape Town.
Margaret died in 2005 and in 2006, he married GrÁ¤fin Madeleine Douglas, who survives him with his sons.
In 2008, the South African Government awarded Professor Sir Raymond Bill Hoffenberg the National Award of Grand Counsellor of The Order of the Baobab in Silverfor his excellent contribution to the advancement of medicine and opposing Apartheid policies.
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