Lives of the fellows

Samson Wright

b.5 May 1899 d.11 March 1956
MB BS Lond(1922) MD Lond(1925) MRCS LRCP(1920) MRCP(1925) FRCP(1933)

Samson Wright was educated at East London College, and at King’s College, London. He studied medicine at the Middlesex Hospital Medical School and qualified in 1920. He won the University gold medal in the M.B., B.S. (Lond.) examination in 1922. After graduation he became demonstrator in physiology at the Middlesex, and after one year as lecturer at King’s College returned to it in 1930 as John Astor professor of physiology, a post which he held until his death twenty-six years later. In 1931 he delivered the Oliver-Sharpey lectures on certain aspects of the reflex control of the circulation.

Wright was a brilliant teacher with an outstanding gift for exposition. A distinguished colleague called him ‘the greatest physiological pedagogue of his age'. He always regarded physiology as the cornerstone of medicine and this approach led him to write his world-famous textbook, Applied physiology, which first appeared in 1926 and went through nine editions during his lifetime. This book has been described ‘as perhaps the greatest of all his scientific achievements’.

His research work included notable contributions on the physiology of the circulation and respiration, and on the complex problem of chemical transmission within the central nervous system. He put forward the suggestion that acetylcholine could act both as a central excitatory and central inhibitory agent within the spinal cord. Wright was also an inspiring but critical director of other people’s researches.

He was always in close touch with Sir Charles Sherrington and on the latter’s ninetieth birthday in 1947 was asked by the Physiological Society to write the introduction to the reprint of the famous Integrative action of the nervous system. From 1938 to 1949 he served as editor of the physiological section of British Abstracts which he developed into an indispensable scientific publication. Wright served as an examiner for the Royal College of Surgeons and at many universities. In the University of London he strongly advocated integration of the teaching of all pre-clinical subjects.

As a man he was a most stimulating, challenging, lovable and humble person. He was proud to be a Jew, was an ardent Zionist, gave his unstinting help to Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Germany, and was a governor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where a laboratory in the department of physiology has been named after him. He married Miriam Maizels; they had three daughters.

Richard R Trail

[Brit.med.J., 1956, 1, 633-4, 1051; Canad. med. Ass. J., 1956, 74, 758; Jewish Chronicle, 16 Mar. 1956; Lancet, 1956, 1, 331; Nature (Lond.), 1956,177, 732-3; Times, 17 Mar. 1956.]

(Volume V, page 463)

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