Lives of the fellows

Omond Mckillop Solandt

b.2 September 1909 d.12 May 1993
CC(1970) OBE(1946) BA Toronto(1931) MA(1933) MD(1936) MA Cantab(1937) MRCP(1939) FRSC(1948) FRCP(1964)

Omond Solandt was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where his father Donald McKillop Solandt was first a Presbyterian and later a United Church clergyman. When he died in 1936 he was head of the United Church Publishing House in Toronto. His wife Edith née Young was the daughter of a civil servant and brought up in Ottawa.

After early education in Winnipeg and Toronto, Omond entered the University of Toronto and graduated BA in biological and medical sciences. He spent the next two years doing postgraduate research in the department of physiology, under C H Best, and obtained an MA. In 1936 he took his doctorate m medicine, with the gold medal. He spent his first year of postgraduate study at Cambridge, supported by the Ellen Mickle fellowship which he had won in his semi-final medical year, and then returned to Canada for a year of internship at Toronto General Hospital.

He subsequently returned to London for another year of postgraduate work at the London Hospital, during which he obtained his membership of the College. It was January 1939 and the country was on the brink of war; medical students were being hustled through their training to provide medical officers for the expanding armed forces and Omond helped with the extra teaching. That same year he was appointed lecturer in physiology at Cambridge and later became a Fellow of Trinity Hall.

In 1940 he was appointed director of the blood supply depot in South West London under the auspices of the British MRC, headed by Sir Edward Mellanby [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.279]. Though transfusion was a well established practice, techniques for storing blood were relatively primitive and Solandt played a principle role in setting up a reliable system of storage. A year later he founded the MRC’s physiological laboratory at the Armoured Fighting Vehicle School at Lulworth and became actively engaged in research concerned with tank design and the physiological problems peculiar to tank personnel. In 1942, still a civilian, Omond transferred officially to the Army Operational Research Group in charge of the tank section. This was an expanding activity in the British Army and in 1943 he was appointed deputy superintendent of AORG London under Brigadier Schonland. He joined the Canadian Army in February 1944 and succeeded Schonland as superintendent when the latter retired in May that year. He held the military rank of lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Army, being promoted to full colonel in 1945 when he was sent to Japan by the War Office as a member of the British team, with the Americans, to evaluate the effects of atomic bomb damage.

In 1946 Omond Solandt returned to the Department of National Defence in Ottawa to begin planning for a permanent defence research organization in Canada. With the formation of the defence research board in 1947, Solandt became the first chairman of the board and the scientific member of the chiefs of staff committee and the defence council. As chairman, Omond had the rank of deputy minister reporting directly to the Minister of Defence, meeting occasionally with the Cabinet and with authority to make contracts with industries, research institutes and universities. He organized a system of grants in aid of research in universities and industry - preferably ‘high tech’ industry - and thus he complemented the government’s programme of educational grants for returning veterans, which prevented repetition of the unemployment which followed the first world war.

By 1956, the Korean war now over, politicians were less interested in national defence. Omond resigned from his post and accepted an invitation to become vice-president of research and development at Canadian National Railways. In 1963 he left the CNR, a crown corporation, to take up a similar position, with a directorship, at the then private corporation of DeHavilland Aircraft - Hawker Siadley. He also became chairman of the board of DCF Systems. In 1966 he returned to government service as the first chairman of the newly formed Science Council of Canada where he remained until 1972. Concurrently he was chancellor of the University of Toronto from 1965-71. After 1972, still only 63, his activities included directorships in many companies, consultancies, trusteeships and advisory committees. The three activities which pleased him most were: a) the scientific advisory committee to the Legislative Assembly of the North West Territories, of which he was founding chairman 1976-82; b) consultancies for International Agricultural Research 1975-88, which took him to Peru, Colombia, West Africa and finally to Manila as consultant for the International Rice Research Institute in 1988 and c) as senior consultant to the Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Toronto.

Over a period of 20 years, 12 Canadian Universities gave him honorary degrees: seven were DSc, four LLD and one D Eng. He also received medals from the Professional Institute of Public Service of Canada, the Vanier Institute and the Antarctic Service Medal (USA). Awards for merit were too numerous to list here. All these honours were in addition to his decorations for war services; he was awarded the OBE 1946 and the Medal of Freedom with Bronze Palm (USA) 1947. In 1970 he received Canada’s highest award - Companion of the Order of Canada. More than many who have served their country well, he had the satisfaction of being appreciated publicly in his lifetime.

Looking back on this remarkable career it is obvious that something more than technical knowledge, practical competence and organizing skill accounted for his success. He had qualities of character which were very important: a sense of humour, tact and a great ability to express himself clearly and forcefully. Great, too, were his qualities of kindness, sensitivity and reliability; acquired undoubtedly from two very fine parents and a brilliant elder brother, Donald.

Omond Solandt had a wide variety of interests, including flying and radio. He secured a commercial radio operator’s licence before he entered university and worked as an observer with the Ontario Provincial Air Service.

He married Elizabeth McPhedran, daughter of a physician, in 1941 and they had three children - Sigrid, Andrew and Katherine. His first wife died in 1971. His second wife, Vaire, survived him.

J K W Ferguson

[The Times, 24 May 1993;The Daily Telegraph, 2 June 1993; Chemistry & Industry, 16 Aug 1964]

(Volume IX, page 490)

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