Nathan Harold Topek, distinguished gynecologist and cultural benefactor, son of Philip and Sarah (Schultz) Topek, was born at Houston, Texas, on October 29, 1926. His parents were immigrants (whose home country was listed as Poland on the 1940 census) and became prominent members of the Jewish community in Houston where they raised eight children; Nathan was the youngest. He attended public schools, including San Jacinto High School, and at the age of sixteen enrolled in Rice University. He graduated from both Rice and Baylor College of Medicine when he was twenty-two and began post-doctoral study in 1948 at the William N. Wishard Memorial Hospital, the public hospital, a part of the University of Indiana Medical Center, serving Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1949 Topek devoted a year of resident study to clinical and anatomic pathology, including the newly-developing field of cytological diagnosis of cervical cancer. This technique, now known as the Pap smear test, was introduced by physicians George Nicholas Papanicolaou and Herbert Traut in their book Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by the Vaginal Smear (1943) and based on their research at Cornell Medical School and the New York Hospital.
After completing his residency in obstetrics and gynecology and serving in the United States Air Force during the Korean War as a surgeon at the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska, Topek returned to Houston where he and his medical partner, Raymond Kaufman, established their Women’s Clinic—one of the earliest pap-smear clinics in the United States. The promotion of this diagnostic test was responsible for the change of cervical cancer from one of the leading causes of death in women at the beginning of the twentieth century to a rarity by its end. Topek and Kaufman were among the founders of the Woman’s Hospital in 1976.
Topek was on the clinical faculty of Baylor College of Medicine, was certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was a Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Surgeons, and published medical articles concerning the early diagnosis and treatment of gynecological cancer. He also taught gynecological surgery at Houston’s Veterans Administration Hospital. He was a member of the American Society of Cytology, the Society for Humanism in Medicine, a life member of the Harris County Medical Society, and a member of Temple Emanu El in Houston. Topek retired from the Woman’s Hospital in 1983 but continued to practice medicine at the VA Medical Center (later named the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center) until he officially retired from medicine in 1998.
He was a close friend of Albert Herzstein and served for twenty-one years as a director of the Albert & Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation. After Albert Herzstein’s death in 1997, Topek served as chairman of the foundation and continued their support of many cultural, social, and ecumenical institutions and projects in the greater Houston community.
Nathan Harold Topek married Cynthia Hawkesford Churton in July 1957, and they were parents of a son, Kevin Topek. They lived in Houston until 2006 when they retired to Georgetown, Texas, where he died at age ninety-one on February 5, 2018. He was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.