Lives of the fellows

George Macdonald

b.22 June 1903 d.10 December 1967
CMG(1953) MB ChB Liverp(1924) DTM(1924) MD(1932) DPH Lond(1932) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1955)

George Macdonald was born in Sheffield. His father, John Smyth Macdonald FRS, was a well known physician and professor of physiology at the University of Sheffield, and then at the University of Liverpool. His mother was Mary Catherine, daughter of Donald Stewart, a Scottish farmer.

In 1932 George Macdonald married Mary, daughter of Sir Roger Gaskell Hetherington CB, a distinguished civil engineer. They had one son and two daughters: one of the latter became a well known general practitioner.

George was educated first at the King Edward VII School in Sheffield, and when the family moved to Liverpool, at the Liverpool Institute. He then entered the medical school of the University of Liverpool, graduated MB ChB in 1924 and, already attracted by a career in the tropics, took the DTM in the same year. In 1925 he was appointed research assistant at the Sir Alfred Jones Research Laboratory in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where during the next four years he carried out his seminal studies on the effects of malaria in African children. He spent two years as a malaria research officer of the Malaria Survey of India and in 1932 took the post of medical officer for the Mariani Medical Association in Assam. He held this appointment until 1937, when Sir Malcolm Watson offered him the post of assistant director at the Ross Institute in London. Macdonald succeeded Sir Malcolm as director of the Ross Institute in 1945.

During the second world war George Macdonald had a distinguished service, when he was, in turn, commanding officer of No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 Malaria Field Laboratories in the Middle East and Central Mediterranean, with a final rank of Brigadier. He was mentioned in despatches in 1943.

In 1945 he resumed his directorship of the Ross Institute and was appointed professor of tropical hygiene in the University of London. He was appointed CMG in 1953, and elected a Fellow of the College in the 1955. In 1954 he received from the World Health Assembly in Geneva the Darling Foundation Medal and Award for his studies on epidemiology and control of malaria. He was honorary consultant malariologist to the War Office, member of the World Health Organization Expert Advisory Panel on malaria and on environmental hygiene, and leader of the 1952 WHO mission to Korea. From 1953 to 1961 he was a member of the Colonial Medical Research Committee. He was chairman of the malaria committee of the Medical Research Council and a member of the Council’s Tropical Medicine Research Board from 1961 to 1964, member of the managing committee of the Bureau of Hygiene and Tropical Diseases, and from 1965 to 1967 president of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

George Macdonald was the author of many papers on the mathematical analysis of transmission of tropical infections and his book on The Epidemiology and Control of Malaria published in 1957 became a classic, while the new edition of Practical Malariology, written in cooperation with three experienced colleagues from the USA and published in 1958, has become the most complete manual for the modern malariologist. He was personally involved in schemes for the control of schistosomiasis in Africa and here again he encouraged a wide epidemiological approach to the problem.

As director of the Ross Institute he travelled widely, encouraging the development of preventive medicine in the emergent countries. His advice was in constant demand and he was a member of the three-man team that produced an outstanding report on the medical needs of Tanganyika, with clear suggestions as to how an effective medical service might be established. From the very beginning of the global malaria eradication programme of WHO, Macdonald was closely associated with its planning; he participated in nearly every session of the WHO Expert Committee on malaria.

George’s courage and fortitude during the last years of his life were marvelled at by those who knew how ill he was, though to most he appeared in near normal health. On hearing the nature of his illness he immediately sought guidance as to how long he might have to accomplish his unfinished work; and some two weeks before he died he delivered, with characteristic skill and verve, a paper at the Royal Society of Medicine.

He was a man of many talents and had a tremendous personality that commanded immediate admiration. A formidable opponent in a scientific discussion, he always listened carefully and weighed fully the argument that challenged his views. His manner could be aloof when he was preoccupied, but whoever worked with him or needed his help appreciated his quiet humour, his ability to understand others, and his infinite kindness. He was loved by his staff, who were intensely loyal to him and proud of his and their joint achievements. In international circles, where he was immensely respected, he represented the best tradition of British science and its application to problems of tropical public health.

LJ Bruce-Chwatt

[Brit.med.J., 1968, 1, 124, 387; Lancet, 1968, 2, 921, 1370; Times, 15 Dec 1967]

(Volume VI, page 306)

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