Lives of the fellows

Brian Gilmore Maegraith

b.26 August 1907 d.2 April 1989
CMG(1968) TD(1975) MB BS Adelaide(1930) MSc Oxon(1933) DPhil(1934) MRCP(1950) FRCP(1955)FRCPE(1956) FRACP(1969) Hon DM Athens(1972)Hon DSc Bangkok(1966) Kt St Lazarus of Jerusalem(1977) Order of White Elephant Thailand(1982)

Brian Maegraith came to Liverpool from a very strong academic background having been a Rhodes scholar, dean of the recently established medical faculty and demonstrator in pathology at the world famous William Dunn School of Pathology, where he was a member of Lord Florey’s team [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.178]. He was also Staines medical fellow and tutor in physiology at Exeter College. He was born in Adelaide, South Australia, where his father Alfred Maegraith was an accountant. His mother Louisa Blanche, née Gilmore, was the daughter of a Methodist parson. He was educated at Kyre College and St Peter’s, Adelaide, and entered the University of Adelaide to study medicine, winning a Rhodes scholarship which brought him to Oxford. His name first came to prominence in the field of tropical medicine when he was recruited as a pathologist for the Army in Sierra Leone and where his work on the kidney and malaria attracted the attention of the then dean of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, T H Davey, and another of the professors who frequently visited Sierra Leone, R M Y Gordon [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.156]. When Warrington Yorke died [Munk's Roll, Vol.V,p.466], Brian was encouraged to apply for the Alfred Jones chair of tropical medicine and was successful in being appointed. Realizing that he had only a limited amount of tropical experience he embarked on a review of all the literature on malaria with particular emphasis on the pathophysiology of the disease. His book Pathological processes in malaria and blackwater fever, Oxford, Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1948, was one of his most erudite publications, which set the stage for the subsequent research that he and various members of his department undertook over the next 25 years. The ideas incorporated in this book were the subjects of numerous PhD theses produced by postgraduates from the developing world, especially from Thailand. He dedicated this first of several books to his wife, Lorna, who was his inspiring companion for over 50 years.

One scientific achievement of his early years was his involvement in the clinical and pharmokinetic studies carried out with A R D Adams on the newly discovered anti-malarial, Paludrine (ICI). The motto that was foremost in his mind and to which he adhered throughout his academic career, both as dean and professor of tropical medicine, was: ‘Our impact on the tropics must be in the tropics’. True to this ideal he helped to found the faculty of tropical medicine in Mahidol University, Bangkok, of which he was justly proud. Seven of its 11 professors were all ex-students of his and it was not surprising therefore that during his yearly peregrinations to Thailand he was revered and referred to as ‘Our Papa’. The significant progress that this faculty has made over the years owes much to his advice and enthusiasm and he was proud of the fact that the faculty is now considered the best institution in tropical medicine in the Third World. Another of his achievements in South East Asia was his contribution to the establishment of the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO Trop Med) which formulated a regional teaching plan encompassing seven countries in the area. It would have given him the greatest of pleasure to know that 20 years after its establishment this concept is still valid and has been endorsed to continue for at least another decade. He was also the originator and leading light of the Association of European Schools of Tropical Medicine, the meetings of which he regularly attended. As permanent vice-president of the Interim Committee of the International Congresses of Tropical Medicine and Malaria he shouldered the responsibility of organizing the congresses. He was delighted to learn that the 1992 Congress was to be held in Bangkok and that the faculty of tropical medicine there would be playing a pivotal role. The intention of the Faculty was to invite him and Lorna as their special guests. Sadly, the last meeting at which he was present was in Budapest in October 1988 and his presence and personality will be sorely missed in future. Although South East Asia was perhaps his greatest achievement, his role in West Africa was only slightly less influential. He established a very close liaison with the University of Ibadan through a lectureship at large of which the author was the first recipient. He met, befriended and recruited Ralph Hendrickse as senior lecturer in tropical paediatrics and child health - now dean of the Liverpool School. He also had close links with the University of Ghana and, over the years, became a personal friend of Kwame Nkrumah. He helped to build the institutes of health in Ghana and establish its postgraduate DTM&H course which, unfortunately, was later discontinued. Brian was a man of great vision and imagination with ideas well ahead of his time. He foresaw the escalation of air travel and the increasing importance of imported diseases, with people arriving from tropical areas well within the incubation period of potentially dangerous infections - the most important of which was malaria. His classical paper ‘Unde venis’published in The Lancet, 1963, 1, 401-404, emphasizing the importance of taking a geographical history, is as pertinent today as it was when it was first published. His Heath Clarke lectures, published in a monograph One World, London, Athlone Press, 1973 [New York, Humanities Press] were an extension of this concept and stressed the now accepted interdependence of north and south. His textbook with Adams on Clinical tropical diseases, Oxford, Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1953, went through nine editions, and his book on Tropical medicine for nurses, Oxford, Blackwell, 1955, went through five.

Although appreciating the great importance of the affiliation of the School to the University of Liverpool, he was nonetheless a fierce advocate of the necessity for the School to maintain its independence in order to play an effective role in the Third World. He was dean of the School for nearly 30 years and under his leadership it grew not only in size but also in reputation. A notable achievement was the creation of the TCML scheme sponsored by the ODA which arose from his recognition of the importance of having individuals at the School with experience of the tropics but equally that such individuals should have a stable and safe career structure. Maegraith was a past president of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, a Chalmers medallist, an honorary consultant to the Army and the Royal Air Force, and a consultant for WHO in many fields.

For many years he was consultant to the Rockefeller Foundation for the St Lucia schistosomiasis project and was elected an honorary member of the American Society of Tropical Medicine. The discussions and arguments he had with his good friend Jack Weir were as fascinating as they were fierce. He was awarded a CMG in 1968 and received an honorary DSc from the King of Thailand, who also conferred on him the Order of the White Elephant. The Liverpool School honoured him with their highest award - the Mary Kingsley medal. A man of great flair and strong personality, Brian did not mince his words and therefore was not always a favourite of ‘The Establishment’. He was one of the great figures of modern tropical medicine and the Liverpool School’s admiration and respect were enshrined forever by the creation of the ‘Maegraith Wing’ where, until his recent illness, he occupied a room. For mental relaxation Brian taught himself to play the piano and one of his favourite pieces was Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’. He was a good amateur painter and won several prizes in painting competitions for physicians. He was also interested in poetry and writing and distributed a collection of his poems and short stories to his friends in a booklet entitled 'A Book for the other side of your bed' which, with characteristic humour, he signed as being by ‘Patrick Gilmore’. His wife, a remarkable woman on whom he relied absolutely, and his son Michael, of whom he was both fond and proud, and his grandchildren -whom he loved dearly - all survived him.

H M Gilles

[Brit.med.J., 1989,298,1093; The Lancet, 1969,1,970; Times, 5 Apr 1989; The Independent, 6 Apr 1989;The Guardian, 10 Apr 1989; Inc.Liverpool Sch.Trop.Med.,Annual Report,1977-78]

(Volume IX, page 349)

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