Hoffenberg: physician and humanitarian

Hoffenberg: physician and humanitarian


By L. Ross Humphreys

Born in South Africa in 1923 - where he trained and practised as a physician and from which he was banned for his anti-apartheid activities in 1966 - Raymond (Bill) Hoffenberg was to become a familiar and highly respected figure in the worlds of academe and medicine in the UK. He became president of both the Royal College of Physicians and Wolfson College, Oxford - posts which for a time he held simultaneously.

This well researched biography charts Hoffenberg's life from early childhood in Port Elizabeth. It includes a revealing account of the time he served as a stretcher bearer in the South African army (which he joined when under age by forging his father's signature) through to his medical and research career at Groote Schuur and his chairmanship of the Defence and Aid Fund that financed the defence of people accused of political crimes in South Africa. His courageous anti-apartheid stance - and that of his first wife Margaret - and the events that led up to his banning and departure to England, are vividly and movingly described.

At the RCP, Hoffenberg focused on ethical issues in medicine and, in the face of initial resistance from many members of the profession, on improving patient care through monitoring the standards of medical practice (medical audit), which had first been introduced at Birmingham and is now widespread. He was also faced with preserving the basic tenets of the NHS which were under threat from the Thatcher reforms.

A powerful, tall physique allowed him to excel in many sports in his younger days, whilst a towering intellect coupled with organisational flair, tenacity and charm enabled Hoffenberg to rise to high office. The characteristics for which he will be best remembered by his colleagues and friends were his compassion, a gift for friendship and his prodigious capacity for enjoyment which enhanced the lives of all who knew him.

About the author

Professor Emeritus L Ross Humphreys was formerly pro vice chancellor for the biological sciences at the University of Queensland. His friendship with the Hoffenbergs in Britain and Australia dated from 1989 at Wolfson College. This is his sixth science biography.


  • Port Elizabeth
  • A lance corporal in North Africa and Italy
  • A physician's focus on research
  • Human rights in South Africa
  • Hoffenberg banned
  • Birmingham
  • Wolfson College, Oxford
  • Maintaining standards of medical practice
  • The delivery of health services
  • Medical ethics
  • Medical Activist
  • The later years

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Hoffenberg: physician and humanitarian