One day the pathologist Ruy Pérez Tamayo received an unusual letter, a high school teacher asked him to please give a lecture on 10 reasons to be a scientist. The author of more than a hundred articles and nearly 70 scientific and popular books, deserving of innumerable awards such as the National Prize for Sciences and Arts in 1974 and the National Prize for the History and Philosophy of Medicine in 1995, he accepted because “he was very obedient.” .
That day in front of high school students, Pérez Tamayo, the humanist doctor, considered a revolutionary of medicine in Mexico, offered the decalogue of why he dedicated his life to science: to not have a boss, to not have work hours, to not get bored, to always do what we like, to use our brains better, not to be teased, to talk with other scientists, to increase the number of scientists in Mexico, to always be happy and not to grow old.
This was the eminent pathologist and academician of the Mexican Academy of Language and the National College, who died at the home of his daughter Isabela, by the sea, on January 26, in Ensenada, Baja California, at the age of 97. age. With his death, says Dr. Adolfo Martínez Palomo, “Mexico loses the last great figure of medicine in the second half of the 20th century.”
“I want to highlight his work as a professor at the UNAM School of Medicine because it not only marked the course of his specialty, but also his extraordinary capacity as a professor and as a forger of professionals; and as the author of a fundamental book: Principles of Pathology, with which thousands of medical students from Mexico, Latin America and the United States studied. His classes on the pathology of the digestive tube, of the lung, of the brain, of the entire human body, were fundamental for many generations for more than 50 years; he taught up to five subjects in a year, that’s why his students were very close to him. I have no doubt that Ruy Pérez Tamayo modernized medicine in Mexico”, explains Martínez Palomo, doctor, scientist and academic.
Dr. Francisco González Crussí, professor emeritus at Northwestern University in Chicago, agrees with Martínez Palomo in noting that one of the great legacies of Pérez Tamayo, born in Tampico in 1924, is his students. “He trained many of us, he encouraged us to reach the highest level of excellence. He went beyond everything, he was a man of science in every sense of the word. It is often believed that a pathologist is dedicated to giving diagnoses through tissue samples, but he refused to stop thinking, he did not just stop at the diagnosis, he looked for the causes, he wondered why the tissue had that configuration and no other, sought to understand the disease, elucidated the basic principles of diseases. He was the role model,” he says.
The doctor and writer Arnoldo Kraus remembers that he met Pérez Tamayo 35 years ago. “He was my teacher when I did the social service in Nutrition. To be with him was to know that you were with a giant, with a huge and very prestigious pathologist, who had a large production of articles and books. Ruy was an absolute master, a master in the most beautiful and profound sense of the word. I was concerned about other things such as philosophy, humanism, science and life, and Ruy was a reference for all that and more. I had the privilege of being his doctor and I know, thanks to Isabel, that in the last weeks of his life he was calm and I want to think that he was at peace”.
Antonio Lazcano, biologist and scientist, member of El Colegio Nacional, remembers Pérez Tamayo walking around the campus, with poise and elegance, like a wise and generous man. “He was a doctor, scientist, committed to science and research who belonged to the second generation of great doctors, such as Ignacio Chávez and Bernardo Sepúlveda; doctors like Guillermo Soberón and Pérez Tamayo built a very determined vision of medicine”, he says.
Lazcano adds that the doctor, who received honoris causa from various universities in the country, was interested in topics such as the history of medicine and the philosophy of science. “He was a member of a seminar at UNAM on scientific and philosophical studies, in fact he revived it. The energy he maintained until the end of his days is admirable. He had a long, full and satisfying life, I have no doubt”.
And it’s true. In 2016, Pérez Tamayo, founder of the Pathology Unit of the Faculty of Medicine at the General Hospital, in a conference at the IPN, said: “I don’t need to do anything, but I want to continue doing what I like. Where am I going? ? Where are we all going, because sooner or later this is going to end. I am not going to stop being who I am: a person who works in a laboratory and who has questions that he wants to answer. Fortunately, I am in good health, I am able to work, I enjoy it very much and I intend to continue doing so indefinitely. That’s where I’m going.”
Pérez Tamayo, essential figure of the Institute of Biomedical Research at UNAM, of the National Institute of Nutrition, of the UNAM School of Medicine, visiting professor at universities such as Harvard, Yale and John Hopkins, has one of the richest libraries in the country , as stated in Casas-biblioteca de Mexicanos, a collection that accounts for his personality and interests: “My library is my life, a good part of my main professional, intellectual and emotional activity is enclosed here” with medical books up to art and literature.
Last June, within the framework of the Menéndez Pelayo International Prize, in Spain, the writer Gonzalo Celorio read the five reasons to love and admire him: his imagination, his teaching, for being a scientist and humanist, for disseminating science and for his love of words. Today are the reasons to miss him.
Outstanding track record
Study medicine at UNAM and specialized in pathology; and completed postgraduate and doctoral degrees in Mexico and abroad.
It was Full member of the Mexican Academy of Language.
Investigator of the National College.
Wrote more than 100 articles and 70 scientific books.
He received awards such as the National Prize for Sciences and Arts, the Luis Elizondo, the Miguel Otero, the National Prize for the History and Philosophy of Medicine and just in 2021 the Menéndez Pelayo.
made significant contributions with their research.
Ruy Pérez Tamayo (right), with the writer Rubén Bonifaz Nuño, in 2007 at the Colegio Nacional, of which they were founding members.
the unmissable books
“His classes were fundamental for many generations for more than 50 years; I have no doubt that he modernized medicine in Mexico”. Adolfo Martinez. Scientist and academic.
“He refused to stop thinking, he didn’t stay with the diagnosis; sought to understand the disease. A model to follow”. Francisco Gonzalez Crussi. Physician and writer.