Lives of the fellows

George Lindor (Sir) Brown

b.9 February 1903 d.22 February 1971
BSc Manch(1924) MSc(1925) MB ChB(1928) FRS(1958) Hon LLD St Andrews(1958) Hon Dr Univ do Brasil(1958) Docteur de l’Université Liège(1959) Hon DSc Leicester(1968) Hon DSc Monash(1969)

Lindor Brown was born in Liverpool, the younger of two children of George William Arthur Brown, a schoolmaster, and Helen Wharram from Yorkshire. On his father’s side he came from a family of tea-merchant s. They were well-to-do, but his grandfather left home after a family argument and joined the army. He rose to be a colour-sergeant and came with his Irish-born wife, Mary Evans, to live in Warrington. Soon after Lindor’s birth his father returned to Warrington as headmaster of a large parochial school, becoming a well-known figure and, among many activities, starting a men’s club.

Lindor Brown went first to his father’s school, then to the Boteler Grammar School in Warrington, winning prizes in several subjects. At 18 he entered Manchester University on a scholarship, intending to read chemistry but on the advice of his sister Kathleen choosing medicine instead. The influence of his physiology teachers - A. V. Hill, H. S. Raper and B.A. McSwiney - led him to take an honours BSc in physiology, winning the Platt Physiological Scholarship, and thus to working in 1924-25 ‘with wild and devoted enthusiasm’ in McSwiney’s laboratory for an MSc. Brown then won a scholarship to the Manchester clinical school, meeting during the interviews his future wife, Jane Rosamond Lees from Cambridge, whose father, Professor C. H. Lees FRS, was a professor of physics in London and Vice-Principal of Queen Mary College. They both qualified in 1928, he having won the Bradley Prize Medal in operative surgery. They had become engaged in the last clinical year and were married in 1930. They had four children (Helen, Christopher, Stephen and Humphrey).

McSwiney had been appointed to the Chair of Physiology at Leeds in 1926, and Brown followed him there as Lecturer in 1928. His time at Leeds was broken by six months at Oxford in Sherrington’s laboratory working with J.C. Eccles.

The next stage in Brown’s career followed from the impression made on H. H. Dale (who was seeking a successor at the National Institute for Medical Research to J. H. Gaddum) by Brown’s papers at the Physiological Society. After two interviews (tradition has it that during one, Dale was preparing an extract of his tennis socks for W. Feldberg to test for acetylcholine on the leech), Brown accepted the appointment, moving to London in March 1934. There he remained until in 1949 he accepted the invitation to succeed Sir Charles Lovatt Evans in the Jodrell Chair of Physiology at University College London. In 1955, after having been elected FRS in 1946 and serving on the Council of the Royal Society, he was appointed Biological Secretary, serving until 1963. In 1960 he accepted the Waynflete Chair of Physiology in Oxford. Seven years later he resigned to become Principal of Hertford College. Early in 1970 he had a stroke, from which he made a remarkable and typically energetic recovery; but later in the year he suffered a biliary obstruction, and though the primary tumour was excised, renal failure set in.

His scientific work, described fully in the Royal Society memoir, falls into four phases: the early electrophysiological work on stomach, heart and superior cervical ganglion; the ‘anni mirabiles’ in Dale’s laboratory when the theory of chemical transmission was established — to which Brown brought essential skills and insight; research for the Navy in World War II, where his personality combined with his scientific qualities to establish a remarkable cooperation between scientists and Navy, and the creation of the R N Personnel Research Committee and its subcommittees; and the post-war period at University College London and Oxford, with its work on noradrenaline release. Among his other services was Secretaryship of the Physiological Society (1941-49), membership of the Medical Research Council (1951-1955) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (1963-65), and Presidency of the International Union of Physiological Sciences (1962-68).

Gardening, workshop activities, woodcuts and engraving, playing the flute, cricket, and irreverent verse were among his recreations. His invigorating personality, happiest perhaps among the young, inspired affection and respect, and cannot be encapsulated in words; but some reminiscences may give a picture of him: 'He invented beautiful and strenuous games for children.'

'I recall him lying under a bench with a soldering iron and saying happily "Isn't is wonderful that somebody is willing to pay us for spending our time like this".'

'He was a statesman and cunning old devil.'

'You did what he told you and knew that if you did it wrong he'd back you up, and cover up for you if necessary.'

'His strange mixture of hilarity and shrewdness.'

'He would talk to the unimportant people when there were more important people around.'

'One keeps meeting people he helped, all over the world.'

Sir William Paton

[Brit. med. J., 1971, 1, 559; Lancet 1971, 1, 500; Times 23 Feb 1971; Biographical Memoirs of RS 1974, 20, 41-73]

(Volume VI, page 72)

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