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Biographical entry Green, Sydney Isaac (1915 - 2005)

MRCS 1938; FRCS 1941; LRCP 1938.

10 June 1915
14 September 2005
Washington DC, USA


Sydney Green was a neurosurgeon based in Washington DC and Bethesda. He was born in Glasgow on 10 June 1915 and lived in a one bedroom apartment with his parents and four older siblings, Lionel, Fagah, Mae and Lillah. He often spoke lovingly about his parents Hymen Harry and Sarah Sayetta Green, and told many stories of life at Springhill Gardens. As he played in the courtyard, he would yell up to his mother, 'Ma, throw me a piece!' and his mother would fix him a bread, butter and sugar sandwich and lower it down to him on a pulley which she rigged up on the fourth floor. The family moved to London when Syd was 10. He decided to become a doctor like his brother Lionel and went on to study medicine at Guy's Hospital. He qualified in 1938.

During the Second World War, he served as a captain in the RAMC and was aboard the Dinard when it was sunk after hitting a mine on D-Day. Later, he crossed the Rhine as surgeon in charge of the Glider Ambulance Unit, 6th Airborne Division, and was one of the first to liberate the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, an experience which profoundly shaped his feeling toward religion and his Jewish heritage.

After the war he returned to specialise in neurosurgery under Hugh Cairns and Murray Falconer and in 1958 went to the United States, where he was in practice in Washington and then Bethesda, working mainly at the Sibley Memorial Hospital. He was much appreciated by his patients and admired by his peers, and was meticulous and incredibly thorough. Intensely devoted to each and every patient, he told how, during the war, he insisted on using more and more blood in an attempt to save one soldier. He was disciplined for his commitment to his patient. Throughout his career, his waiting room was often crowded. He simply wouldn't take shortcuts with any person, much less his patients - but he was well worth waiting for.

In 1961 he met a widow, Phyllis Leon Brown. The story goes that she took him on a walk on their second date, and before he knew it they were in a jewellery store choosing rings. They married in 1962 and Syd instantly became a father to three boys, Stuart, Myles and Ken. A daughter, Sarah, was born in 1964.

His pride in his family was transparent: family defined his life. He always tried to be home for dinner every night, even if it meant he would have to go back to work late into the evening. He didn't have many hobbies that would take him away from home, but he was passionate about his garden. He would drive up the driveway and, before going inside, he would take off his jacket and lie down in a patch of grass, painstakingly picking out the crabgrass. He would sometimes lose his glasses in the garden, only to find them crunched by the lawnmower weeks later or would come in the house frantically looking for them, only to realise that they were still on the top of his head.

He loved to sing off key and tell jokes, good and bad, and to play games. He was intensely alive at every moment and took incredible pleasure in food, whether marmite on burnt toast, over ripe bananas and really crusty bread. Syd had the eccentric habit of grading every meal he ate. While his wife learned to accept a solid B with some satisfaction, other hostesses weren't so thrilled to accept that their meal was anything less than an A+. With Syd, there was no such thing as grade inflation.

He was thrilled to see each of his children find his or her life partner, and was passionate about his grandchildren. As Sydney's family tree grew, so did his life force, it seemed. He was famous for travelling to new cities, finding phone books in hotel rooms and looking up anyone who had a name that vaguely resembled his mother's maiden name 'Sayetta'. If he found someone, he would call them and invite them for tea. Whether or not they were related, it was a new person to meet with the potential of connecting with them on some intellectual or emotional level: Syd was a people person to the very end.

He saw a great deal during his long life, including two world wars and the horrors of the Holocaust. He was also around to see some of the most fantastic advances in technology and he made sure he kept up with the latest medical breakthroughs, even into his eighties. In 1996 he underwent a pneumonectomy and, after a prolonged battle with chest disease, he died on 14 September 2005. He was 90.

Sarah Green

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Washington Post 16 September 2005].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England