Derek Abrahams was born at St Neots, Huntingdonshire, a member of a distinguished and somewhat complicated family. His father was Lionel Abrahams, a solicitor, and his mother Gertrude Ann was the daughter of an orchardist, James William Funk. She was killed in an accident when he was still very young; his father died at an early age. Three uncles achieved eminence: Sir Adolphe, the London physician and rheumatologist, Sir Solly, a chief justice in the Colonial Service and Harold, the Olympic gold medallist whose fame was rekindled by the film ‘Chariots of Fire' Derek was educated at Bedford School and Caius College, Cambridge, and completed his medical studies at St. George’s Hospital in 1943. The start to his medical career was somewhat less than illustrious; he had enjoyed the ‘good life’ and later regretted that his medical ambitions had only developed several years after graduation.
I first met him during his term as senior registrar at the National Heart Hospital, 1949-1952. He was an excellent clinician and teacher but not always adequately supported by his superiors. In 1949 he published a paper ‘The Q-T Interval in Acute Rheumatic Carditis’, the conclusions of which were not supported by subsequent investigations. His immediate superior, Paul Wood, rather ungraciously stated ‘What can you expect, Abrahams is so short-sighted that he probably could not measure the Q-T interval accurately’.
In 1952 he was awarded a travelling fellowship in medicine to the United States of America and in the following year was appointed lecturer in medicine at the London Hospital. There seemed no prospect of further advancement and he therefore moved in 1956 to Ibadan in Nigeria as senior lecturer in medicine, University College, and was later given a personal chair in medicine.
In 1963 he moved again, this time to Australia as associate professor in medicine at the newly established University of New South Wales. His ability was quickly recognized, but because of his rather inflexible and uncompromising adherence to self-imposed standards and principles, he clashed with the head of the department of medicine, Ralph Blacket, and resigned from his university post.
His last decade was spent as consultant physician in the northern suburbs of Sydney, with attachments to Royal North Shore Hospital, Mona Vale District Hospital and Manly District Hospital. His opinions were eagerly sought by many general practitioners and patients. Until his final illness he retained a keen interest in teaching, and his ward rounds were always popular with undergraduates and graduates alike.
Derek was a very determined and courageous man. When his malignant lung lesion was diagnosed and deemed inoperable he underwent radiotherapy. He used to go for treatment in the morning and did his medical work later in the day, testimony to his iron self-discipline. After his death a colleague was heard to say ‘What a great pity, Derek was mellowing to such a degree that he might have become a marvellous old man for reminiscences’.
[RACP, College Newsletter, Aug 1981, 13, 5]