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Isaac Angel Mallach (1918-2020)

As told by his daughter, Lindsay Abel

Isaac Angel Mallach
Angel in uniform

Born in a small town Wepener, in the Orange Free State in South Africa in 1918, Isaac (Angel) was raised on a farm with three older brothers. When he was still a little boy of five his young father passed away, and his mother took her four sons to live in a working-class suburb of Cape Town. Although times were tough, the boys were resilient and Angel thrived at school. He was accelerated and matriculated at sixteen.

Angel was awarded a scholarship by the Freemasons to attend medical school at the University of Cape Town. He graduated at just twenty-one and completed his housemanship in a country town Grahamstown. He didn't have a driver's licence at the time, but the District Surgeon said that he needed to get around so he was issued one on the spot without any driving test.

The Second World War broke out and Angel was keen to enlist, which he did as soon as he had completed his internship. He was always amused that although it was only his second day in the armed forces, he was put in charge of the servicemen on the army train because he was now a (very green) officer. He spent the war years doing duty in North Africa, Palestine and Italy. Highlights for Angel included sleeping on the steps of the Pyramid and meeting General Smuts. He continued to serve in a military hospital for about a year after the war, as soldiers were being sent home on a staggered basis according to marital status.

Angel returned to South Africa and soon after, met the love of his life, Denise, on a blind date. As soon as he set eyes on her he knew she was the girl he wanted to marry. They were married for seventy-three years; it was a busy household with their four children. Angel and Denise went to live in Bellville where he started his medical practice from the Boston Hotel. As a returned soldier, without financial backing, he had to be resourceful and even used his army jerry can as a steriliser. He was joined by his brother -in -law Tollie Lewis, husband of Denise's twin sister, Hilary, and a number of other partners over the years. The practice moved from the hotel to a surgery that was attached to the house in Durban Road that he and Denise built. Many years later the practice moved again to larger premises up the road.

Isaac Angel Mallach
Qualifying at medical school

Angel was a popular and dedicated doctor, who worked long hours. The doctors of the time did much of the work that is now in the domain of specialists, such as performing confinements and assisting at operations. Dinner was usually a rushed affair because he had to go out on calls. The children of the doctors of the Northern Suburbs probably have in common that they are all fast eaters.

Angel's was a family practice in every sense, with the nurses working there from young till retirement and having a close relationship with his children. Another much loved member of staff was Danie Pekezela, who helped in the practice for over twenty years.

His expertise included interpreting from Xhosa to English when the need arose, which was often. Another constant presence in the surgery was the family dog, Scamp who had 'his' special chair in the waiting room and woe betide any patient who wanted to sit in it. Angel and Scamp were a familiar sight when they went on house calls together, day and night.

Life in rural Bellville didn’t lack excitement. An unforgettable experience for Angel was seeing a snake slithering along the surgery floor while he was examining a baby. On a more positive note, there was great excitement every year when the circus came to town. A fabulous parade would travel along Durban Road from the station, past the surgery, to the sports field where the Big Top was erected. The parade comprised the entire cast of clowns, acrobats and animals with the elephants walking trunk to tail. Mr Wilkie, the circus owner, and his troupe were patients of the practice.

Mr Wilkie was always generous with free tickets, but embarrassingly for Angel the children cried when they saw the clowns. More perks for the children were that the owner of the Tygerberg Zoo was a patient of Angel’s. He once brought a litter of lion cubs to the family home for the kids to play with which they still speak about today.

Angel was innovative and was involved in setting up a medical aid service for the clothing manufacturers industry. He retired from private practice in his mid-fifties and went to work as the in-house doctor for the industry. Some years later he was invited to work at Tygerberg Hospital, at the time the largest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere.

Isaac Angel Mallach
Angel resting at home

One of Angel’s favourite anecdotes was that every Friday at the hospital the case of the week was presented to a large group of specialists in the big theatre. The patient of the week was wheeled in and the doctors started discussing his case. On one occasion, the patient suddenly sat up, pointed at Angel sitting quietly at the back of the room, and said in no uncertain terms, ‘Julle dokters weet niks. Vra vir Dr Mallach. Hy ken alles’ (you doctors know nothing, ask Dr Mallach, he knows everything). Everyone looked across at Angel and laughed and he wanted the floor to open up.

Angel and Denise emigrated to Sydney in 1996. It was a bold move, which they embraced. However, he and Denise missed the camaraderie of the GPs and the friendships with the other Northern Suburbs doctors and their families. It is a testament to all the doctors of the Northern Suburbs that although they had separate practices, they were a real community. The legacy lives on – many of their children are still in close contact.

Angel passed away in August 2020 in Sydney a week before his 102nd birthday. He lived a wonderful life with Denise who is still enjoying Sydney with her extended family.

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