Lives of the fellows

George Giglioli

b.19 February 1897 d.14 February 1975
OBE(1948) MD Pisa(1921) DTM&H(1922) MRCP(1933) FRCP(1961)

George Giglioli was born in Portici (Naples). His grandfather had graduated in Edinburgh and married an Englishwoman; his father was therefore half English. His mother was a Scot and an authoress. George was a typical Saxon in appearance. His uncle was Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in the University of Florence and the principal influence on him as a boy, combined with his father, Italo Giglioli, an agricultural chemist who wrote a monumental work on agricultural economy, to whom telling a lie was an unheard of shame. George was the youngest but one of six children. He was wisely advised by another Pisan Professor that a degree in natural sciences would lead to a teaching career, with no chances of travel, whereas medicine would open many doors. Giglioli was always more of a naturalist than a physician and the prophesy turned out to be correct. While at the University he was called up for the first world war in 1917. He was soon captured by the Austrians and spent three years as prisoner-of-war, reading books on medicine and malariology, sent first by his family and then by Americans through Gina Perret, the daughter of a family resident in Paris, and working in the prison hospital. He was released in 1919 and returned to the University where he had done nothing but a year of anatomy; nevertheless, he qualified in 1921 maxima cum laude as a result of his reading, but he felt the lack of a basic education all his life.

Giglioli had had a puritan childhood and experience of prison as a youth; he was always reserved and solemn. He worked for a year in the Institute of Pathology (on the adrenals in starvation), and met the girl who had sent him books, a lively extroverted girl with an Italian-Swiss father and a Parisian mother. They were engaged when he went, in 1922, to the School of Tropical Medicine in London, where he took the DTM&H and received encouragement from Lewis Sambon, with whom he did research on malarial parasites in snakes. It was there that he was told of the appointment with the Demarara Bauxite Co., to which he went, after marrying Gina Perret, on the day in 1922 when Mussolini took Rome.

For ten years he worked with mining and sugar concerns in British Guiana (now Guyana) as a lone malariologist. Fortunately he was joined by a competent surgeon, Cesare Romiti, whom he had met in the Italian Army, and the mines, taken over by the American Aluminium Company, provided a hospital where first class work could be done. His application of Sambon’s ‘wide naturalistic approach’ combined malaria, hookworm and typhoid into an area in which Giglioli’s work revolutionized working conditions in Guiana. He identified the mosquito responsible for the indigenous malaria, worked out the relation between the varying acidity of waters and the breeding of mosquitoes, unravelled the connections between malaria, nephritis and typhoid, saw the possibilities of DDT locally, and did the first preventive campaign with it as soon as it became available, and all this with the interruption of a second period of imprisonment (as an enemy alien this time) for two years in the second world war. His work in Guiana was crowned with its extension on a world scale by WHO. The man who chose a career which would involve travelling abroad covered South America and Africa, received recognition by WHO, England and Italy, and became one of the great international scientists.

As a second career, he had all his life been an artist, and developed as a sculptor in an original style, derived probably more from the inherent qualities of the local hardwoods and the effects of long practice than from any of the contemporary movements in artistic style. He was a man nearer to the Renaissance spirit than anyone else of his time.

CE Newman

[Times, 27 Jan 1975; Denis Williams, Giglioli in Guyana 1922-1972, Natural History and Arts Council, Georgetown]

(Volume VI, page 195)

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