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World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO) News and Events

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Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology: March 2020 - Volume 54 - Issue 3 - p 1-2
doi: 10.1097/MCG.0000000000001315
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Tribute to Professor Meinhard Classen, WGO President, 1998-2002

*August 12, 1936; †October 6, 2019


WGO joins with so many organizations, colleagues and friends who knew Professor Meinhard Classen and shares below testimonials of a man who was an instrumental and irreplaceable asset to the field of gastroenterology. A true pioneer and mentor of the specialty worldwide, Professor Classen led a long and distinguished career, having received many honors and awards as well as serving as president of several scientific and medical societies, organizations and committees.

A decorated role model to many colleagues around the world, Professor Classen was committed to the education and training of young gastroenterologists, serving as a speaker at many courses and meetings regularly.

Professor Classen was truly a humanitarian, devoting his time and expertise to several initiatives in the developing world.

At WGO, we were privileged to also know him as President from 1998-2002 and Secretary-General, from 1990-1998. Professor Classen also served as the founder and co-chairman in the establishment and development of the International Digestive Cancer Alliance (IDCA), where he served from 2002-2008.

Professor Classen was 83 years old when he passed and leaves behind a legacy whose achievements will continue to shape gastroenterology for years to come.

Below we share with you some special memories from current and past WGO leadership. We invite you to also share with us any testimonials you would like to have listed on this webpage, which will remain indefinitely.

Professor Meinhard Classen, I am Already Missing You But the Memories Will Be Present Forever

The passing away of Meinhard Classen left me overwhelmed with sadness. The field of gastroenterology has lost a great man; an outstanding scientist and physician, a talented gastroenterologist, a visionary leader, a loyal and wise President.

Our partnership was born many years ago. It was rapidly transformed into a strong friendship. Meinhard was the driving force behind introducing me to the WGO; getting me involved as a founding member of the creation of AMAGE (African Middle Eastern Association of Gastroenterology) 1 of the 4 Regional Affiliate Associations to WGO; and encouraging me to become an elected member of the executive committee of ASNEMGE (Association des Sociétés Nationales et Méditerranéennes de Gastroentérologie) which has since become UEG.

Meinhard, the visionary man, founded the WGO Training Centers. It was a wonderful idea which contributed to the success of the WGO mission. He created the Training Center of Rabat-Morocco (WGO-RTC), which is dedicated to all French-speaking gastroenterologists mainly from Africa who were excluded from training and education for many reasons. This helped to minimize their isolation. Thanks to him and to the support of the Gastroenterology Foundation of Munich, the WGO-RTC has been well equipped. Since the opening, Meinhard, together with Guido Tytgat, to whom I wish good health and long life, used to participate as faculty at each Annual Course at the Rabat Training Center.

Meinhard, the inspiring and enriching man involved me in the IDCA. This created a new level of education and training in oncology at the WGO-RTC. This step was the ultimate expression of confidence and friendship.

The World of Gastroenterology is mourning the loss of Professor Meinhard Classen, whose generosity, especially to Africans to whom he gave so much training, education, and all kinds of support, will be remembered for all time. Rest in peace my dearest friend and be sure that I (we) will never forget you.

—Naima Lahbabi-Amrani, WGO President (2019-2021)

In Memory of Professor Meinhard Classen

The passing away of Meinhard Classen, one of my dearest international friends, left me bereaved and overwhelmed with sadness, submerged in a flood of memories, spanning almost all my professional life and beyond. Through my regular contacts and visits since the early 70s to Erlangen, at that time the European Mecca of endoscopy, a lifelong comradeship and partnership was born, crystalized in numerous contacts and activities and quite conspicuous parallelism of our academic careers. To illustrate, just a few of the numerous examples: Meinhard did and thought me the first sphincterotomy in the Netherlands with a home-made sphincterotome very soon after his landmark paper was published. He introduced me to German gastroenterology and endoscopy with numerous presentations at the Wiesbaden meetings. Together we published the famous atlases on endoscopy, were active with the journal endoscopy and created an international educational gastrosurgical platform to foster closer interaction between the 2 disciplines.

Meinhard was the driving force to introduce me to World Gastroenterology. Getting me involved in the creation of a training center in Soweto, South Africa and Rabat, Morocco was inspiring and enriching. Getting me involved in the IDCA, baptized at the Vatican, created a new level of educational involvement in oncology. Passing on his WGO presidency to me was the ultimate expression of mutual trust, confidence, loyalty and friendship.

The memories of a highly talented, eager, wise, loyal, compassionate, charming gentleman-like gastroenterology-prince will never fade.

—Guido N.J. Tytgat, Professor Emeritus, WGO President (2002-2005)

Meinhard Classen, An Appreciation

While my involvement in WGO (or OMGE as it was then known) began with roles in the Research and Communications Committees, it became much more substantive thanks to an invitation from Meinhard, then Secretary-General, and his lifelong friend Joseph Geenen, then treasurer, to consider joining the executive as Secretary-General when Meinhard assumed the Presidency at the World Congress of Gastroenterology in 1998.

Over the next 4 years, my education in the politics and processes of international gastroenterology took place under the guidance of Meinhard and Joe. I quickly came to recognize the status that Meinhard deservedly enjoyed around the world as a pioneering endoscopist, academic gastroenterologist and supreme statesman. His ability to negotiate while holding firm to the goals of the organization and in an atmosphere of transparency and fairness was pivotal to the development of a sound financial footing for OMGE which was a fledgling, financially fragile organization when he took the helm.

He modernized OMGE and, in so doing, ensured that it became a major player in international medicine. Ever the stately gentleman he steered his ship through the many troubled waters that it encountered with his unique combination of diplomacy, charm, and integrity.

Meinhard Classen had a passion for the underserved and single-handedly initiated a program that has now blossomed into a global success for WGO—the Training Centers. Working with his friend, Isidore Segal, he established the WGO Training Center in Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa. Meinhard’s idea was revolutionary—provide training in gastroenterology for those from unserved areas close to home in a center of excellence. Its impact soon became evident with the graduation of a cadre of young gastroenterologists to provide care to their countrymen in Sub-Saharan Africa. This became the template for training centers in Central and South America, North Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

As OMGE/WGO grew and prospered, Meinhard was always open to new ideas and supported many novel initiatives, including other now well-established programs such as Train the Trainers and Guidelines. Later he focused on gastrointestinal cancer and campaigned to ensure a central role for the gastroenterologist in gastrointestinal cancer through IDCA, worked tirelessly to launch of a massive and much-needed study on the impact of Helicobacter pylori eradication in gastric cancer prevention in China and raised money to support a cancer center in Tanzania.

Meinhard Classen was a modern giant of gastroenterology who left his indelible mark on so many aspects of our profession and in every corner of the globe. WGO will be forever in his debt.

—Eamonn Quigley, WGO President (2005-2009)

Meinhard was a giant in therapeutic endoscopy, helping us make the leap from using endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography as a diagnostic tool to one that revolutionized the treatment of pancreaticobiliary disease. His trainees to include Fritz Hagenmeuller, Thomas Rosch, and Horst Neuhaus, to name only a few, themselves became the trainers of a whole generation of gastroenterologists and therapeutic endoscopists. A Past President of WGO, Meinhard’s academic and philanthropic contributions were myriad. He will be missed, [but potentially referenced forever].

—Richard Kozarek, WGO President (2009-2011)

In May 2001, Eamonn Quigley generously invited me to be part of the OMGE’s executive (now WGO). In January 2002, I attended my first meeting in Frankfurt, under the presidency of Professor Meinhard Classen. I will never forget my first encounter with him. I guess I was more scared than nervous. One month later, I had to officially become Deputy Secretary-General of the organization at the World Congress in Bangkok. The first evening Professor Classen invited my wife and me to dinner, also attended by Bridget Barbieri. This was the dialogue: “Henry, you will not be the Deputy Secretary-General.” What happened? (I then thought that I had done something wrong, even before starting!). “You will be the Secretary-General.” I was so surprised that I told him I had to think it over. Now he was the one surprised: How is that? There are many people trying to get this position! Early the next morning, Eamonn called me and explained the reason for such a change. Of course, I accepted and the rest is a well-known story.

After that, I had the chance to work with him and learn from him for years. I could tell many stories, most of them showing that Meinhard was a great and generous person that behind his seriousness, there was a very sensitive man.

—Henry Cohen, WGO President (2011-2013)

It is with sadness that I learned the passing of Meinhard Classen; a giant in the Gastroenterology world. Others will comment on his major impact on hepatobiliary pancreatic investigation and management for which I give due recognition. With regard to WGO and my personal involvement, he was the President who invited me to join the organization and join in fulfilling the vision to change WGO to a mainly education-focused organization. I am delighted to say that this vision has been fulfilled and generations of future gastroenterologists shall be the beneficiaries. Vale Meinhard. Forever your admirer.

—Jim Toouli, WGO President (2013-2015)

Herein a brief comment re Professor Classen, a giant who will be missed: When I was elected as Treasurer of the OMGE in 2004, I was called to Munich to meet with the Management Group to set up our interactions in managing WGO’s finances. While there I was told that I was to be hosted for dinner by the former president, Professor Meinhard Classen, whom I had not previously met but knew by reputation. The restaurant and meal were wonderful. The conversation started like a detailed interview for a major academic position. After an hour or so of “grilling,” Professor Classen smiled and told me that I had “passed.” I displayed the right attitude, understood the goals of WGO and he was certain I would carry out my duties beautifully. The rest of the dinner was quite pleasant and he and I communicated frequently during my tenure and thereafter. He was a dedicated, brilliant clinician and became a good friend. He will be greatly missed.

—Douglas LaBrecque, WGO Treasurer (2005-2008)

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