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UCL Ear Institute & Action on Hearing Loss Libraries


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Peter Zwarts, former Institute of Laryngology and Otology Librarian

By H Dominic W Stiles, on 29 November 2013

Peter Zwarts (1933-2013) formerly the Institute of Laryngology and Otology Librarian, died in Petersfield on 12th of August 2013.

We are grateful to Ray Allen who worked here from 1991 – 2005 and knew Peter well, for most of the following information about his interesting life.  Ray says,

we breakfasted and often had supper together (when the canteen stayed open to provide hot dinners to 7.30pm!).  He always left Petersfield at about 5.50 am. to be in for breakfast at 7.20 am. departing home at close of play/canteen, sharp at 7.35 pm.  I had met him quite a few years before when I worked at a small ENT Research Institute at the Middlesex Hospital.  He had a tremendous reputation with most  ENT consultants and Researchers from the 60’s to 1990’s, not just at Grays Inn Road but from around the UK, who knew him and visited him at the Library whenever they were in London for courses or the RSM monthly meetings.  In a pre computer age it seemed as if  all published work on ENT both historic through  to current journals was stored in his head…..  he hated the computer!

Knowing so many people in ENT, the library became a clubbish place where smoking was allowed, filled with many of the late Professor Hinchcliffe‘s cohort of doctors.

He was born in Holland, to the north west of Amsterdam, and had, Ray says,

a very tough time during the occupation, talking movingly of the famine north of the Rhine in the last winter of the war, when they were reduced to trying to survive on tulip bulbs dug from the fields.  The Germans and particularly the Dutch Nazis, worried no doubt about the retribution to come,  were at their most brutish  with the civil population and  I believe a number of his family paid a very high price.

I think he did his Librarianship training in Holland and England.  He went to America in the early 1950’s working at The New York Public Library.  There he was able to indulge in his great passion, Jazz.  Completely oblivious to the dangers he walked everywhere, and his thick Dutch/ English accent, unusual to the American ear,  allowed him to stroll nightly into Harlem and into black only venues where he was accepted (and walked out again unharmed, in the early hours).  The Dutch  being the original New York colonists (Harlem/Yonkers etc..),  perhaps he just felt at home.

Peter 1

Night after night he listened to and chatted with, some of the most famous jazz musicians and bands of the period. His jazz knowledge was  encyclopaedic and he had a vast collection of music at home.  His other great passion was cigars, the only man I know to own a humidor, to keep his collection in prime condition.  […] A real ‘Character’ with an unexpected hinterland.

There was some sadness in his life, his wife dying quite young I understand.
Peter  2

Goodbye Peter.

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