Lives of the fellows

Thomas Edward Lowe

b.24 October 1908 d.12 June 1990
CBE(1967) MB BS Melb(1932) MD(1934) MRCP(1935) FRACP(1938) DSc(1945) FRCP(1952)

Tom Lowe was the son of Clara Rhoda and Charles Edward Lowe. His father was a judge of the supreme court of Victoria and served as chancellor of the University of Melbourne and administrator of the state of Victoria. On leaving Scotch College, Tom studied medicine at Melbourne University, becoming a resident medical officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and proceeding to his MD. His medical training took him to London where he obtained his membership of the College and worked as medical registrar at St Mary’s Hospital. Returning to Melbourne, he was appointed physician to outpatients at St Vincent's Hospital and Stewart lecturer in pathology at the University of Melbourne. He thus became one of a number of distinguished Melbourne physicians who combined the disciplines of pathology and medicine under the aegis of Sir Peter MacCallum, thereby adding a fundamental strength and character to clinical practice and teaching.

It was during these years that he carried out his research into the distribution of coronary artery blood flow to ventricular muscle, which provided the material for his DSc thesis. After war service he resumed his hospital practice and was made senior lecturer in pathology. The award of a Rockefeller travelling fellowship in 1948, spent largely at Western Reserve University, USA, was an opportune prelude to his appointment as director of the Baker Institute at the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, and its newly established clinical research unit, posts which he filled with distinction for 25 years - the balance of his professional life. His appointment came at a crucial time with the postwar emergence of clinical science as a pillar of medicine. Together with Ian Wood, later Sir Ian, [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.548], at the clinical research unit in the Hall Institute, Tom Lowe was responsible for the introduction of the discipline into hospital practice. They successfully established bridgeheads for clinical science in teaching hospitals which elsewhere were all too easily contained even after the creation of university departments of medicine.

Given the time and circumstances, the achievements of the Institute and his predecessor were underrated but in retrospect the judgement, prudence and foresight of the new director are cumulatively evident. There was a shift of emphasis into cardiovascular research although the other activities of the Institute were not neglected nor abandoned. The shift was determined not by his own interests and training but by the prospect of a rich harvest of new knowledge from the application of developing investigational techniques. The choice of this major research field was ideally suited to maintaining and expanding the close links between the Institute and the clinical staff at the Alfred Hospital, many of whom were given facilities for work within the Institute. This both encouraged integrated research and sustained and underpinned clinical practice and teaching within the hospital. The influence of the Institute’s commitment to high standards was not confined to the hospital but extended to other centres through the appointment of Baker Institute staff.

During Lowe’s time at the Baker, research horizons widened in Australia and resources increased, though perhaps not commensurately. Full advantage was taken of this changed climate: new fields were explored, the Institute kept abreast of advances in equipment and instrumentation, staff and support services expanded and a new building was planned and erected. It was typical of Tom Lowe that the building was planned to anticipate and permit growth of the Institute under his successors. Besides his achievements as director, his contribution to medicine is reflected in a substantial output of books and papers and by service on a number of medical and tertiary advisory bodies and councils. In the year of his retirement he completed a history of the Institute.

Tom Lowe was a quiet and reserved man but his demeanour emphasised rather than concealed his formidable intellect. To those who did not know him this could convey the mistaken impression of austerity, something of which he was unaware until late in life. Behind his reserve was a quiet humour that goes with a feeling for order and proportion. He was a devoted and beloved family man. He helped care for his first wife, Beth Anderson, who died in 1982 after a long and painful illness. He is survived by their son Peter, a consultant anaesthetist, and his second wife Jean, daughter of David York Syme.

J D Tange

(Volume IX, page 324)

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