Dr Sam Tucker

Dr Sam Tucker

15 October 1926
Benoni, South Africa
11 June 2018
London,United Kingdom
Words by
Rabbi Yitzchak Y. Schochet

Sadness permeates this room as a deep sense of loss pervades. Alas, someone so special, unique, so kind and ever so loving has been taken from our midst. A wonderful man – a larger than life character – dear Sam – Shmuel Michoel ben Hershel Tzvi returns today to his Maker.

People typically reflect on an age and think to themselves “He’s had a good innings.” Maybe so but we wonder, why not a few extra moments – a few months, maybe even just one more day…just to say goodbye. And yet against that backdrop it is clear that G-d wants a few more angels by His side.

I don’t use this term lightly. It is no coincidence that his Hebrew name was Michoel – which is of course one of the archangels referred to in Scripture. Everyone knows that Sam was a doctor par excellence. But even more than that everyone knows that he was a doctor with so much heart – so much compassion – so much care and concern for another.

Sam was undoubtedly a man on a mission

The Torah uses a curious term when describing a doctor: It says, “and heal he shall heal.” By definition, if one were to say, “G-d made man ill, what gives man the right to heal,” the answer is, G-d grants license – He has His selected messengers – special people entrusted with the Divine task of bringing healing to His world. Sam was unquestionably one of those special messengers – one of His angels on earth. I for one, and I know so many others besides me, were beneficiaries of his extraordinary medical expertise, his keen insight and always coupled with his personal genuine care and compassion.

Rabbi Yehuda said in the Talmud: “The best of doctors is destined for hell.” I once shared that statement with Sam. He laughed and he replied in his inimitable style and with that distinct South African accent: “If you’d see some of the people in the profession today, you’d be inclined to agree.” You had to love his arrogance. It wasn’t self-importance or conceitedness. It was perhaps more rooted in a frustration for anything that was irrational or not up to the higher standards that he demanded of himself.

The Talmudic commentaries explain that statement, with emphasis on “the best of doctors.” Precisely because they are exceptional at what they do, because they are the best of doctors, they may start to believe in their own prowess. They may ignore or be oblivious as to their role as a man or woman with a mission to make this world a better place.

Sam was undoubtedly a man on a mission – who remained utterly committed and in no small measure succeeded in making this world a better place. He was an eminent consultant pediatrician most renowned for being a specialist in new-born hearing, indeed inventing a cradle which detects deafness in a new-born within the first week of life, which was revolutionary as beforehand you couldn’t discern hearing until after a year or so. He was chairman of the Portland Hospital and regarded as a leading authority on the treatment of ADHD.

His Linkedin page listing his various positions over the years reads like a Who’s Who of the medical world. He took frequent trips to Russia in order to help the “Friends of Russian Children” where he taught local doctors in paediatrics and helped establish the charity which saved many children’s lives. There are indeed countless people who will have readily attested to the way – as they put it – “Sam Tucker saved their child’s life, or was instrumental in their wellbeing.” I can include myself in those ranks. When clearing out his filing cabinet he had the record of over 20,000 patients he saw in private practice during his career – and that’s probably only part of the picture. Again, true to his style he often said, “It’s not the children with the problem. It’s often the parents!”

Even in his later years, as he often told me, he still read, still kept up a keen interest with latter day developments, and, if he knew you once consulted him on a matter, even years later he would never forget to ask after your wellbeing and progress. Such was the nature of this doctor; such was the nature of this human angel. Indeed of the best of doctors, and no doubt with a special place in heaven where he will be ascending to now.

he was there in 1948 – at the beginning, aged 19 …. fighting in the Israeli Air Force as a navigator

But beyond Sam the doctor there was also Sam the passionate Zionist and the ever proud Jew. It was only several weeks ago – Israel’s Memorial Day – and we had a special celebration at the Shul. It was 70 years after all and so we thought it most appropriate to contact those who will have fought for our beloved homeland. Sam was the first and obvious name that came to my mind and I called him. I was delighted when he accepted. Each candle lighter was given a brief script to read before kindling, to capture the particular commemoration their candle was being lit for. I asked Sam if he had his. I panicked when he said “no,” but soon learnt why. He went off script. He got up – walked a little unsteadily but determinedly to the Menorah and lit his candle. He then took the microphone and told everyone about his personal history – he was there in 1948 – at the beginning, aged 19; participating over a whole year in some of the critical missions, fighting in the Israeli Air Force as a navigator. You could hear a pin-drop in the room. Here was a live hero. He later received a resounding round of applause from all assembled. It was a proud moment for him but an even prouder moment for us as a community – and that image of his standing by that candle is one that will remain with me always.

When I saw him later I commented, “Sam, you went off script.” To which he retorted, “I would have gone on but I know you wouldn’t let me.” That was Sam – a mind razor sharp till the end.

a founder member of the Mill Hill community

He was a founder member of the Mill Hill community – having come along when it was a mere house in Sylvan Avenue. There can be few things in life that give nachas more so than planting seeds and watching the tree grow. Even as today there is an excess of a thousand families, we are all the fruits of those founding days which remain an eternal credit to him and others like him.

And if ever one wanted to catch a glimpse of his passionate Jewish heart – apart from his regular attendance at Shul when he still could and his staunch commitment to tradition, there was that moment in recent years when either I or one of my sons would come in on first day Rosh Hashanah and Lord Levy -Michael – came in on day two – and when that Shofar was blown the tears that would well up in his eyes – expressing his beautiful soul, capturing the essence of a truly proud Jew.

But above all else there is Sam the family man. Everything else was important to him but nothing more so than the love for his family. Barbara, it is near impossible to find the right words with which to convey to you condolences. Yours was a blissful marriage – just short of sixty five years and built upon the foundations of mutual love and respect. Always by each other’s side, you stood out as an example to the generations that followed. Even as recent as last week – I observed you both on Mill Hill Broadway and I smiled. Earlier the other day he was so concerned for you in hospital, overcome with emotion, and later elation, when he knew the surgery went well. He was always fiercely protective of you and I dare say – if his time was to come – I suspect it is as he would have wanted it – without the need of causing you the anguish of being there in the moment. Your final memory of him will be a happy one – also knowing that, he spent his final moments in your magnificent garden – adorned by your beautiful sculptures, sitting in his favourite chair in the sun.

Everything else was important to him but nothing more so than the love for his family

Dana, Mark and Trevor, you were his ultimate pride and joy. He gave you everything to enable you to grow and develop – he was a father you were eminently proud of, always there looking after your every interest – always on hand with an open heart. I have no doubt that it is because of your exceptional devotion together and that warm family unit which added so much bliss to his life; and together with Gerard and Janet, all of you sharing such an exceptional bond over the years. Life is cyclical and we often find ourselves reciprocating all that love and affection with which we were privileged to be raised in our earlier years. I’m sure just as you grew up in the warmth of his embrace you gave back so much in return. Even in your loss – you can draw some comfort in knowing that his life was unquestionably so much more enriched because he experienced such love and devotion. And I have no doubt that even as your homes, once graced with his presence, will now be that much emptier in his physical absence, he is certainly very much there, watching from above, feeling your pain during this trying time and yearning for your happiness and comfort as and when life will provide those moments once more.

It might be said that nothing quite generates that special nachas – that ultimate pride more so than dear grandchildren. Ashley, Martyn, Lyall, Harry, Jacob, Abigail, Zach, Amy and Alexandra, you were the icing on the cake. He was always keen to follow your developments; he always spoke of you with a smile and a glint in his eye, and even in these latter years as he struggled at times, your presence took the discomfort away, brought the smile back, made his day shine bright once more. He would have had the past eight months to get to know Finley, his great grandson born to Ashley and Emma – and I think, it is more than mere irony, he would have been chuffed that Finley made his first appearance at Shul just this past Shabbat, sitting right near where Sam would sit – a fourth generation in the same community – it doesn’t get more magical than that.

Percy, you were so looking forward to celebrating your 90th with your big brother in a little over a month’s time. Alas you find yourself here now instead. All those many decades of sharing in a relationship as is unique between brothers – you will all have created beautiful memories over the years that will surely linger eternal.

I am certain everyone here has a personal anecdote and more to share. Each of us here can vividly recall something that touched them when being in contact with this larger than life man. The list can go on and frankly even if we all shared something it still would do insufficient justice.

I could only but convey to all of you, his family, deep heartfelt condolences and wishes for a long life. The wound now endured upon his passing is every bit evident as the minds and hearts of all those who knew and loved this special man will be filled with so many cherished memories. The void that is now left in the wake of his passing is one, which is irreplaceable. But the imprint he will have left on the lives of you his family and so many others besides is equally irrevocable. This world is so much more of an emptier place without Sam but equally so much more of a better place, because of him.

TNZB”H, A”H. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life, and may peace be upon him.

Words by
Dana Cukier Daughter

A leading authority on the treatment of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder & ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), the late eminent Consultant Paediatrician, Dr Sam Tucker was one of the first to recognise that bad behaviour could be derived from a biochemical imbalance of the brain, rather than just sheer naughtiness. He was often quoted in national newspapers advocating the use of drugs, such as Ritalin and Prozac. He was also the go-to expert for many TV and radio programmes where he was never afraid to voice his opinion on the effects of these treatments for ADD & ADHD. As a result, he was heralded by the long-suffering parents of diagnosed patients for his staunch – and very vocal support – of the treatment, which literally changed the lives of entire families.

Specialist areas within Paediatrics included deafness in the newborn, heart conditions and ADHD. Sam Tucker was the medical half of the team from Brunel University responsible for inventing the first portable ‘cradle’ to detect deafness in a newborn baby within the first week of life. The auditory reponse cradle was pioneering technology as previously it could take up to a year to determine whether a child had hearing problems by which time, its development was already seriously impaired. Tucker admitted that the newborn hearing unit at Hillingdon Hospital was probably his finest achievement as it is now the testing standard for newborn hearing loss, not just in this country but all over the world.

In terms of accolades, Sam Tucker was twice President of the Paediatric Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, as well as Senior Treasurer of the Royal Society of Medicine, regularly heading up committees right up until his retirement. He was also the author of several ground-breaking publications including ‘Foetal Complications of Vaccination in Pregnancy’ – BMJ January 1962; ‘Cardiac Problems in Childhood’ – 1978 and ‘Hearing Screening in the Newborn’ – 1982. He also contributed expert opinion to several best-selling publications on babies and their development, including books by world famous baby guru, Annabel Karmel.

Dr. Tucker passed away suddenly after a fall at home on 11th June 2018 aged 91. He is survived by devoted wife, Barbara, daughter, Dana (author of this obituary), sons, Mark and Trevor and younger brother Percy plus nine grandchildren and one great grandson who brought great joy in his final months.