Dolf Polak Obituary

Dolf Polak, my father, passed away at the age of 98, leaving behind a legacy as a distinguished professor of renal medicine and a devoted music aficionado. He was originally from The Hague in the Netherlands but relocated to London with his family as a youngster. His parents, Jacques Polak and Connie van den Bergh, both shared a passion for art and music, which they instilled in their son from a young age. Dolf took up the violin and continued to play it passionately throughout his life.

Growing up, Dolf attended a progressive school handpicked by his mother. During the war, he attended Bedales in Hampshire to avoid the blitz, but returned to London regularly for violin lessons. Despite having a talent for music, he decided to pursue medicine instead after the war, mainly due to the loss of many Dutch Jewish friends and family members and the chaos of the war at the time.

As a medical student at Cambridge University and later at University College hospital in London, Dolf continued to play music in his free time. He played with many of his peers, who later became celebrated musicians and ambassadors of the art form. After being deployed as a dispatch rider by the Dutch army, Dolf began his 40-year love affair with the NHS in 1948.

In 1954, Dolf married Thalia Salaman, a prolific sculptor, and together they had four children. In 1964, he pioneered a regional renal unit in Portsmouth and in 1971, became a revered professor at a new medical school in Southampton. Thalia and Dolf renovated an old rectory near the school and made it their home for 40 years, creating a large music room for informal concerts and musical gatherings.

Despite being a dedicated medical professional and renowned academic, Dolf always found time to pursue his passion for music. He played in many local orchestras and chamber ensembles and organized informal at-home concerts with his wife. After retiring in 1988, Dolf started teaching violin lessons to private students and continued to play music until he was 96.

Dolf and Thalia moved to Cambridgeshire in 2006, seeking a warmer environment and community of like-minded chamber music players. Despite suffering from arthritis, Dolf continued to play with his new friends until he physically could not. During his free time, he began writing string arrangements for some of his favorite pieces of music, creating short “encores” and even a full-scale quintet. His vast knowledge of chamber music made him an intimidating audience, but he always remained a generous and humble host.

Dolf is survived by his wife Thalia, their four children, nine grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. His life was an inspiration to many and will not soon be forgotten.


  • oscarcunningham

    Oscar Cunningham is a 41-year-old educational blogger and professor. He has been writing about education for over 10 years, and is known for his expertise on online learning and digital media. Cunningham is also a frequent speaker on these topics, and has given talks at a range of universities around the world. In his spare time, he also enjoys playing the violin and running.

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