Lives of the fellows

Donald Uvedale Owen

b.8 November 1900 d.7 December 1943
MB ChB Liverp(1923) MD Liverp(1928) MRCS LRC(1924) MRCP(1933) FRCP(1943)

The death of Dr Donald Owen on active service at the age of forty-three cut short a career which showed much promise. Son of a Presbyterian minister, William George Owen, and his wife, the former Mary Ellen Griffith, he was born at Beaumaris, Anglesey, and was a pupil at the local grammar school from 1911 to 1918. He never had any doubts as to what profession he wished to follow, and became a student in the medical faculty of Liverpool University.

His first appointment after graduation was that of house surgeon at the Royal Infirmary, Liverpool. In 1924 he was appointed clinical pathologist to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, a post which he combined in 1925 with that of medical registrar and tutor at the Royal Infirmary. The Samuels scholarship in medicine was awarded him in the 1932-3 session, and he spent a period in post-graduate study at the London Hospital. Two appointments followed in quick succession in 1933, that of honorary physician to the Bootle (Liverpool 20) General Hospital, and that of registrar and tutor at the Liverpool Royal Southern Hospital, with a clinic for diseases of the heart. These changes marked his transfer from tropical to general medicine. In the following year he became a University demonstrator in medicine and held that post until his death.

He had enlisted in the Territorial Army and was therefore called up for service immediately on the outbreak of World War II and given charge of a general hospital, which was sent to Egypt. While he was working in his hospital it became evident that he was suffering from aplastic anaemia. He was sent for treatment to Pietermaritzburg and afterwards to Johannesburg to receive weekly blood transfusions. The illness was prolonged and entailed much suffering which he bore with great equanimity till his death in December 1943.

Owen published a score of papers in medical journals, especially during the period when he was clinical pathologist in the School of Tropical Medicine. In a few of them he collaborated with others, including Professors J. W. W. Stephens and Warrington Yorke. One of them on the output of urobilinogen in malaria (Ann. trop. Med. Parasit., 1928, 212, 461-502) was the groundwork of the thesis for which he was awarded the M.D.; it was entitled ‘Studies in the production and output of urobilin and urobilinogen in malaria and blackwater fever’, and was marked as of outstanding merit. He was a keen and critical worker and an admirable clinician, who combined careful and skilful work at the bedside with equally skilful laboratory investigation. Professor Stephens said of him ‘I do not think it often falls to the lot of a physician to be able to control his work in the laboratory so closely by observations in the ward and, vice versa, his clinical observations by biochemical research.’

To his patients he never seemed to be in a hurry. As a teacher he prepared his lectures carefully and attracted large numbers of students. When in charge of the Forces’ Hospital in Egypt his experience in tropical complaints led to specialised work in that field, for which he was mentioned in dispatches.

Much as he enjoyed his medical work, he found time for a variety of activities, social and sporting. He was a keen swimmer from his school days and was given his colours for hockey, and while at the University he represented it in tennis. An enthusiast for winter sports, he enjoyed skiing at St. Moritz. He was a foundation member and first president of the Innominate Club, a Liverpool medico-literary club, and, as he enjoyed all sorts of social contacts, had a large circle of friends. Although good natured and tolerant, he had a firm and definite outlook and did not associate readily with time-servers and sycophants. He was unmarried.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1944, 1, 65, 272; Lancet, 1944, 1, 359.]

(Volume V, page 312)

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