Lives of the fellows

Rupert Montgomery Yeats Gordon

b.23 August 1893 d.26 July 1961
OBE(1938) BA Dubl(1914) MB BCh BAO Dubl(1916) DTM Liverp(1919) DPH Liverp(1920) MD Dubl(1920) ScD Dubl(1933) MRCP(1936) FRCP(1941)

Rupert Montgomery Gordon was born in Phoenix Park, Dublin, at the depot of the Royal Irish Constabulary, to which his father, Dr Samuel Thomas Gordon, F.R.C.P.I., was surgeon. His mother, Fanny, was the daughter of the Rev. William Butler Yeats, rector of Tullyish, co. Down, and an aunt of W. B. Yeats, the poet, and of Jack Yeats, the artist. His paternal grandfather, Dr Samuel Gordon, was one-time president of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

Rupert Gordon was educated at Strangeways School and Trinity College. In 1916 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, and with the rank of captain served as pathologist and parasitologist in Salonika, Macedonia and South Russia. In 1919 he was appointed to the staff of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and so began a long and fruitful association which was to continue unbroken for thirty-nine years, until his retirement in 1958.

For eighteen months he worked as research assistant at the School’s laboratory at Manaos, Brazil, and for two years as house physician to the tropical ward of the Liverpool Royal Infirmary, and clinical pathologist to the School of Tropical Medicine. In 1924 he was appointed assistant director of the Sir Alfred Lewis Jones Research Laboratory at Freetown, Sierra Leone, and in 1930 became its director and the professor of tropical diseases of Africa at the University of Liverpool.

During his fourteen years in Sierra Leone, he produced with his colleagues a substantial volume of published work. His work with Blacklock gave the first evidence of immunity to metazoan parasites (Lancet, 1927, 1, 923-5). One of his most notable studies, on the mechanism of the mouthparts of blood-sucking insects during feeding, began with an investigation of the mosquito (Ann. trop. Med. Parasitol., 1939, 33, 259-78).

Gordon was recalled to Liverpool in 1938 to fill the chair of entomology, which in 1941 was combined with the chair of parasitology to become the Dutton and Walter Myers chair of entomology and parasitology. Of his work in Liverpool the best known was that on filariasis, particularly on Loa loa, on which his department rapidly became the centre of British research.

The importance of his investigations was quickly recognised, and led to his appointment by the Colonial Medical Research Committee to organise the Loiasis Research Scheme at Kumba in the Cameroons. He also studied the development of the trypanosomes deposited in the skin by the bite of infected tsetse flies, and devised a method of microphotographing the mouthparts of biting insects during the actual process of feeding in the skin of the mouse.

He was awarded the Chalmers memorial medal of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 1937. In 1938, in recognition of his work in Sierra Leone, he was awarded the O.B.E. For many years he served on the Council of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and in 1955 held office as its president. On his retirement in 1958, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine awarded him its highest honour, the Mary Kingsley medal.

Gordon was a keen naturalist and a lover of outdoor life. As a young man he was active in many sports, including rowing, boxing and tennis. He had a great zest for living, and brought enthusiasm and verve to his every activity. He was endowed with a sparkling sense of humour, and his fund of amusing stories of the eccentricities of distinguished people he had known made him excellent company at all times. He was a man of much polish and culture, modest, deeply loyal, and incapable of any form of meanness or uncharitableness. All who were associated with him became his friends, and it is a measure of his character that he had no enemies.

As a teacher his greatest asset was his ability to transmit to others his enthusiasm for the subject in hand, and to this and to his careful training may in part be attributed the fact that five of his research assistants occupied academic chairs. Because of his wide experience in the fields of medicine, entomology and parasitology, his research was unique in covering the whole host-vector-parasite complex. His last six years were spent preparing, with Dr M. M. Lavoipierre, his Entomology for students of medicine (1962).

He saw clearly all sides of every human problem, and consequently was averse to making up his mind with haste. He therefore avoided posts where quick decisions were called for, but his wide knowledge and shrewd common sense made him a most valued member of the many important committees on which he was called to serve.

On 11th December 1943 he married Dr Joycelyn Cronin Lowe, eldest daughter of Dr Edward Cronin Lowe, M.B.E., consultant pathologist, of Southport, Lancashire. He died in Liverpool at the age of sixty-seven, and was survived by his widow, herself a pathologist, and by two sons.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1961, 2, 387-8 (p), 534, 591, 716; Guardian, 27 July 1961; Lancet, 1961, 2, 323-4 (p), 497; Nature (Lond.), 1961, 191, 852-3; Times, 27 July, 1 Aug. 1961.]

(Volume V, page 156)

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