The Last class started at 11 am on 14 December. There was no way to start the preparations at the last minute, because for the person he was, any lack of care with time would be an absolute mistake.
At 10:15 am the team entered the Aula Magna, to try to anticipate any early arrivals, but it was too late. At the door and accompanied by his faithful Luisa, Professor José Ferro already awaited the arrival of his guests.
In the official farewell to the school to which he always belonged, 50 years cannot be quickly reported, especially for a man who has always lived in a triple professional role, academic, clinical and research.
Soon everyone arrived in time to take their places. There were politicians, health professionals, the work teams at Santa Maria Hospital, old friends and the family, represented by his wife, two daughters, sons-in-law and seven grandchildren.
At the official table, the highest hierarchies symbolized the importance of the Professor, representing the entities to which he was connected: Professors Luís Castro, Vice-Rector of the University of Lisbon, Fausto Pinto, Director of the Faculty of Medicine, Melo Cristino, Chairman of the Scientific Coucil, Joaquim Ferreira, President of the Pedagogical Council and Daniel Ferro, President of the Board of Directors of the Northern Lisbon University Hospital Centre (CHULN).
The speech, which highlighted some of his great professional life pillars, could not have been more surgical. Director Fausto Pinto quoted David Starr Jordan, the first President of Stanford University in the US, to sum up José Ferro in the best way: “The world stands aside to let anyone pass who knows where he is going”.
What to say about Professor José Ferro?
He graduated in Medicine from the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon and specialized in Neurology, putting aside his first intention of becoming a Psychiatrist.
Academically, he became Full Professor at the University Clinic of Neurology, President of the School Council (2014-2020), as well as a member of the Scientific Council and, more recently, President of the clinical education reform committee.
He was Director of the Neurology Service at the Northern Lisbon University Hospital Centre and Principal Investigator at the Institute of Molecular Medicine (since 2003). He published around 400 scientific papers and 74 book chapters.
Amongst many other professional positions, the following stand out: the European Stroke Conference (1st to 23rd), of which he was a Member of the Scientific Committee; the 10th European Stroke Conference (2001) and the 21st Meeting of the European Neurological Society (2011), of which he was Conference Chairman; the European Neurological Society (2009-2010), which he presided; he has been a member of the Editorial Board of several prestigious journals, including “Stroke” (2001-2021), “Cerebrovascular Diseases”, “Journal of Neurology” and “European Stroke Journal”; reviewer of journals such as “Stroke”, “European Neurology”, “Lancet”, “Lancet Neurology”, or “Neurology”. He was also President of the Panel of the Santa Casa Neuroscience Awards (2017; 2019) and Member of the Scientific Panel for Health and Directorate-General for Research and Innovation of the European Commission (2015-2019).
He focused his class on Clinical Research, reporting it through a "First Person Narrative", a narrative that at the end of the session would make the audience conclude that the first person would always be the plural, because he did nothing alone.
While the room was filled with white coats and many people who were apparently anonymous and had a happy face, returning to their old faculty, José Ferro walked through the history of his life story.
He recalled his Anatomy group of friends from 1972, who insisted with him that he should not choose Psychiatry. One of them was António Rendas, former Rector of Universidade Nova. It was António Rendas who began to raise doubts about the Psychiatry path, suggesting that he chose Neurology and join the laboratory of “the new researcher who was being talked about”. The new researcher was António Damásio and he was starting, on the 8th floor of Santa Maria Hospital, a Language laboratory to study language disorders caused by neurological diseases.
Regarding this time, the Professor reflected on his life, based on JP Getty, “Luck is knowing how to take advantage of lucky moments”.
His first works were presented to the world in 1974 and 1979.
In his professional life, other protagonists emerged, to whom the Professor was now giving his attention. At the time still an intern doctor, Isabel Pavão Martins proved to be the next promise in the field of Neurolinguistics.
From his role as a doctor to the periphery, specifically in Arraiolos, where he worked with children, and jumping to Canada, where he was at the University of Western Ontario, he concluded what he had found in a wrapping of a coffee biscuit, “Travel will prove beneficial to you”. Gaining the world and knowledge made him present, in almost 600 pages, his Ph.D. thesis on Behavioural Neurology.
In 1985, a new journey in his professional path was approaching. This time from Behavioural Neurology to Neuropsychology for Strokes.
Having initially worked with the masters from his Faculty, such as Alexandre Castro Caldas (Neurologist) or Nuno Lobo Antunes (Neuropaediatrician), José Ferro now worked with a remarkable group at the University Hospital – Stroke Centre. CH Drake, HJM Barnett, F Vinuela, and V Hachinsky. Also M-G Bousser and CC Warloweram were now names that would mark his professional path and with them he presented scientific reflections to the world.
In Portugal, the treatment and monitoring of cerebrovascular diseases was practically non-existent, so the Professor created, in 1985, the first team at Santa Maria Hospital. The first step was to create the external consultation. The team grew to eight members. In 2001 the Stroke Unit was inaugurated.
Time and development of his work have made the Professor a prominent figure in the European and world vascular milieu. Currently evaluating the neuropsychiatric consequences of strokes, and the psychiatric consequences that result from the injuries caused by them, the truth is that the Professor went back to the beginning of everything and of his own will, Psychiatry. Or perhaps he only knows too well how to see the world and himself.
From his trips to the world of Science and the clinic and from the people with whom he worked, the Professor left a legacy, which will continue his work: researchers, doctors, professors, Bruno Miranda, Ana Verdelho, Catarina Fonseca and Diana Aguiar de Sousa. For a caustic man, as well as a demanding one, to end with the message that “possibly some will surpass me”, is the best compliment by the Professor of rigor and discipline.
The same discipline that has always governed him and that he leaves to young people as an inspiration: "to reach glory, whatever it may be, there is no alternative, you have to work a lot, work, work", he said, ending his Last class with an emotional expression.
After much applause from the audience, the Retirement Medallion was handed over. This was followed by endless hugs, mostly to “friend Zé”, from those paraded by him until the room was empty.
About Professor Ferro, the best words attributed to him that morning were those quoted by the Director of the FMUL, Fausto Pinto, taking up David Starr Jordan: "The world stands aside to let anyone pass who knows where he is going".
“And you know where you’re going”.