My dear friend Sam Glatt passed away at home October 5th 2018, aged 92.
On Friday 23rd November I joined others in paying tribute to this remarkable man, at an event organised by his daughters, Cathy and Helen.
Speaking with other guests that evening, with medical colleagues, political comrades, friends and family, the common thread about Sam was his intelligence, kindness, humour, gentleness, his political activism and a strong drive to help others.
Sam had been born (1926) and raised in the East End of London. In his early years he lived through the depression, the rise in fascism with Mosley’s marches and the Battle of Cable Street, and then World War 2.
After the war he joined the Communist Party, saying they had done more than any other left-wing party to protect British Jews, like himself, against fascism.
An Asian medical colleague took the microphone and told us that after qualifying at Sheffield University Sam took up general practice in a small mining village near Sunderland. For the patients, he earned respect for being a good doctor, but also their appreciation for understanding and caring about the problems and hardships the miners, and their families, had to face. He became part of that solidarity characteristic of many mining communities. Sam also had many Asian and Muslim friends and had done a lot to help poor Bangladeshi immigrants living in the area.
The retired MP and friend, Chris Mullin, talked of Sam’s activism in the Labour party after he joined in 1972. A passion shared with his late wife Joan. Chris shared some amusing anecdotes. On one occasion when they were door-knocking together, a young lad answered the door to Sam and the father asked from upstairs who it was. When the boy replied it was somebody from Labour the father cried “Tell him to F**K OFF!” As Sam was walking away the father came running down the path and said “Eeh am reelly sorry Dr Glatt, ah didn’t kna it was you…..ye’ll have me vote Thursdah, nee worry!”
Another fellow GP Labour activist told us that in the 70’s and 80’s Sam had given talks on various, sometimes controversial, medical issues, such as abortion or contraception, to groups of Labour members. In particular, he had been keen to increase awareness of a little publicised report by Sir Douglas Black of the Royal College of Physicians. This report was produced in 1980, and demonstrated that widening differences in ill-health and death rates were not down to NHS treatment but to social inequalities. A subject dear to Sam’s heart if not that of Margaret Thatcher.
More recently, Sam welcomed the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, feeling Labour had previously shifted too far to the right. He was dismayed at the unfounded antisemitic smears against Corbyn and his supporters. Sam said that personally he had never experienced antisemitism in his almost 50 years in the Labour party, though he felt it may exist in a minority of members. He said the real threats of antisemitism came from the extreme right, not from disagreements with the left on the Israeli Government policies concerning equal rights for Palestinians. Sam understood the importance of Israel for many British Jews, but said he wanted an Israel that did not punish Palestinians for something German fascists had done to European Jews over 75 years ago.
In 2016 Sam wrote an open letter to John Mann MP criticising him for his attacks on Corbyn and Labour members who supported him. He defended Ken Livingstone and Dr Jacqueline Walker and questioned Mann on the political motivations behind his deliberate conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Many Corbyn supporters had been suspended and deprived of their vote in the second leadership campaign of that time, for Sam this was a disgraceful use of false allegations employed to oust Corbyn and silence support for Palestinian rights.
When my turn to speak came, I talked of how Sam, even in his nineties, was still very much engaged in Labour politics, and support for Jeremy Corbyn. Sam was well read and when he first met my french wife, Françoise, we were surprised when he spoke to her in fluent French. We discovered that he also spoke Spanish and Russian. We both found Sam to be excellent company, with wonderful stories, intelligent insight, wisdom and a great sense of humour. He was always thoughtful, courteous and gentle.
Many times we were stopped in the street by grateful patients, despite his having been retired for some time. But after a lifetime of helping others he found it hard to accept his gradual loss of independence, and the support he needed even if it was so willingly offered. He missed his wife Joan terribly, but was proud and happy to have their two lovely daughters and their grand-children.
It was a privilege for me and Françoise to have been Sam’s friends, and to share so many interesting conversations. I ended my talk on one discussion we had about the importance of “kindness”, Sam quoted a short poem which I have included below, for I can see why he, in particular, appreciated it.
” Question not but live and labour,
till your goal be won.
Helping every feeble neighbour,
seeking help from none.
Life is mostly froth and bubble,
two things stand in stone,
kindness in another’s trouble,
courage in your own. “
by Adam Linsday Gordon, 1866