Eminent dermatologist, pioneer in photodermatology, physician-scientist, clinician, and teacher. He was born in Vienna, Austria, on March 26, 1943, and died quietly and unexpectedly in his beloved Tyrolean retreat in Oberndorf, Austria, on August 21, 2023, aged 80 years.
Herbert Hönigsmann was born in Vienna, Austria, where he graduated in medicine from the University of Vienna in 1969. He continued his medical education at the Institute of Cancer Research and the 1st Department of Dermatology, both at the University of Vienna. After completing his residency in dermatology and venereology, he moved to the Department of Dermatology and Venereology at the University of Innsbruck, inspired by his early mentor and renowned dermatologist, the late Klaus Wolff. During the following forming years, he spent time as a visiting scientist in the Departments of Dermatology at the University of Seattle, Washington, and in the Department of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1981, he returned to Vienna and established and headed the Photobiology Unit at the 1st Department of Dermatology. In 1992 he was appointed Chairman of the Division of Special and Environmental Dermatology and in 2004 he became Chairman of the Department of Dermatology, a position he held until his retirement in 2008. Herbert Hönigsmann’s scientific achievements are numerous, especially in the fields of phototherapy and the photodermatoses, and are documented by a large body of scientific publications and by his tireless and ambitious activities in national and international scientific societies. Most notably, he was a member of the founding committee of the European Society for Photobiology (ESP) in 1985 and served as its president from 1989 to 1991. He organized memorable scientific events, among which the 10th Congress of ESP in 2003 and the 12th International Congress of Photobiology, both in Vienna, are noteworthy. He was recipient of the Award for Excellence in Photobiological Research of the ESP (2007) and the Finsen Medal of the International Union of Photobiology (2014).
So much for the facts. As for the man, I first met Herbert Hönigsmann when, as a medical student, I attended his lectures in photodermatology. There I was impressed to meet a professor of medicine with the then rare combination of excellent science, teaching ability, humanity, and kindness. Like many of my fellow students, I was immediately hooked. Sometime later, I was fortunate and privileged that he became my department chair and teacher for many years, and even more, my mentor and friend. The question of Herbert Hönigsmann’s personal bequest, in addition to his bio- and bibliographically documented legacy and beyond his lasting achievements in photodermatology, would of course exceed the scope of this eulogy. However, a few points stand out and must be mentioned:
Herbert taught us to always strive for excellence in both research and patient care, but never to sacrifice humanity for it. Moreover, he continues to convince us, as evidenced in his written legacy, that language is important, whether written or oral, that it should be scientifically precise and literary in style (I am trying my best here to come as close as possible to his ideal). He also gave an example of the seemingly trivial realisation that people matter: Himself embedded in a network of valued colleagues and friends at home and abroad, he always shared trust, confidence, respect, and responsibility with his coworkers. Finally, he was also a wise administrator who, as chairman, never got lost in bureaucracy but understood (and I sometimes smile quietly to myself as I follow his example) that seemingly urgent administrative needs sometimes disappear if you just wait long enough.
Herbert was gregarious, entertaining, an enemy of boredom, and a caring husband, father, and grandfather. He is survived by his wife, daughter, son and two grandchildren.
The author would like to acknowledge support by Open Access Publishing Fund of Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences, Krems, Austria.
Open access funding provided by Karl Landsteiner University.
Conflict of interest
I declare, that there is no conflict of interest.
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Trautinger, F. Obituary: Herbert Hönigsmann, M.D. Photochem Photobiol Sci (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s43630-023-00491-5