Lives of the fellows

Edward Rowland Alworth Merewether

b.2 March 1892 d.15 February 1970
CB(1956) CBE(1948) MB BS Durh(1914) MD(1916) MRCP(1938) FRSE(1940) FRCP(1946)

Edward Rowland Alworth Merewether was born in Durham. The son of Alworth Edward Merewether, a naval surgeon, his great grandfather was John Merewether, Dean of Hereford and private chaplain to Queen Adelaide. He qualified MB BS from Durham in 1914 and two years later he got his MD, with Gold Medal, at the same University. He held house appointments at the Royal Victoria Infirmary Newcastle, but very soon joined the Royal Navy as a surgeon and was seconded to the Army and took part in the Serbian Army’s retreat to Salonika. For his work at this time in the typhus epidemic he was awarded the Order of St. Sava of Serbia. After demobilisation he spent a short time in general practice and served as Chairman of the Ministry of Pensions Medical Board, and later as a Medical Member of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. In 1922, he was appointed Assistant Tuberculosis Officer in Sheffield, and, in 1925, Assistant School Medical Officer, Salford. In 1926, he was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn.

In 1927 he joined HM Medical Inspectorate of Factories, then under the Home Office, and it was here that he made an important contribution both to the practice and science of industrial medicine. His Report (with C W Price) on the effects of asbestos on the lungs, published in 1930, has become a classic. He showed that no less than 81% of the persons who had worked with asbestos for 20 years had pulmonary fibrosis. This Report led to the making of the Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931, and to the inclusion of asbestosis in the workmen’s compensation scheme. Later Merewether was the first person to confirm suspicions that cancer of the lung might be associated with asbestos, but unfortunately his series of observations was not published under his own name but in the Annual Reports of the Chief Inspector of Factories. In the Inspectorate he had an illustrious career which spanned 30 years, in which he did much to build up the esteem in which it was held both nationally and internationally; not only by his work and the standard he set but by his impact as a speaker at medical conferences both at home and abroad.

He was a popular member of the Savage Club, and it was here that his power as a raconteur came to the full.

Merewether was a kind and sympathetic person who had a gift for friendship and an urgent desire to help others which, happily, he was able to achieve both in his professional and in his private life. Throughout his career, his acute mind, engaging personality, and his ability to grasp essentials without losing sight of the details, were apparent in his work, but towards his latter days a streak of obstinacy crept in and he could procrastinate beyond belief. He was at heart a doctor and not an administrator and some felt that medicine, in which his real talents lay, had to take second place to departmental routine of which he was not the best exponent. He was very widely and deeply read, his chief hobby was gardening, and he loved music of a classical and romantic kind. He was a happily married man who enjoyed family life, and his children and his grandchildren felt no generation gap.

Merewether received many honours. The Royal Society of Edinburgh elected him a Fellow in 1940. In 1944, during the reign of George VI he was appointed KHP and his achievements were further recognised by the award of the CBE in 1948 and the CB in 1956. In 1957 he was awarded the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. He became MRCP in 1938 and was elected a Fellow in 1946. After retirement he undertook medico-legal work and visited Ceylon for the ILO.

He was survived by his wife, Ruth, daughter of Robert Waddell of Corbridge, and three daughters.

T Lloyd Davies

[, 1970, 1, 571; Lancet, 1970, 1, 477; Times, 23 Feb 1970]

(Volume VI, page 335)

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