Walter Beck (1926 - 2011)
Professor Walter Beck, who died in August this year, was one of the pioneers of the specialty of cardiology in this country. Born in 1926, he was educated at Stellenbosch Boys High School and graduated BSc at Stellenbosch University in 1945. He subsequently completed his MSc, MB ChB, and MMed at UCT. After internship and registrar training at Groote Schuur Hospital he spent two years as a registrar in cardiology at the Brompton Hospital in London and was successful in the examination for the MRCP. This was followed by a 2-year fellowship in physiology at the Mayo Clinic. He returned to join the Cardiac Clinic at UCT and Groote Schuur Hospital as a research bursar in 1959 and was appointed as a specialist physician and deputy director of the Cardiac Clinic in 1961. He was head of the Cardiac Clinic from 1972 until his retirement in 1986. He was elected to Fellowship of the American College of Cardiology in 1969 and the Royal College of Physicians in 1972.
Walter Beck was an outstanding clinician with superb skills and encyclopaedic knowledge, who revelled in the intellectual challenge of evaluating complex congenital and acquired heart disease using clinical examination coupled with the chest radiograph and ECG. He was one of the last master cardiologists completely comfortable with the evaluation of congenital and acquired heart disease. When he did make mistakes, which were infrequent, he would critically re-evaluate the reason for the error. He was a skilful and accomplished operator in the cardiac catheterisation laboratory and an expert in interpretation of haemodynamics, angiography, oxygen saturations and dye-dilution curves.
He made original observations and published extensively in the international literature in many areas of cardiology, including congenital heart disease, the evaluation and surgical correction of valvular heart disease, and cardiac physiology. He was closely involved with the pre- and post-operative evaluations of the first heart transplant recipients and the first descriptions of these in the literature.
He was a gifted teacher, both at the bedside and in the catheterisation laboratory, his ward rounds were popular and his elucidation of complex haemodynamic principles (literally on the back of a cigarette box) was legendary. His comprehensive knowledge of cardiology and cardiac physiology allowed him to render the most complex of issues readily understandable. He trained a generation of cardiologists, many of whom went on to distinguished careers in academic and private practice in South Africa and abroad.
Outside of medicine his interests were broad, including Cape Dutch furniture, Chinese ceramics, vintage cars, motor cycling and wind-surfing. Ever the teacher, he introduced his junior consultants to windsurfing.
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