Lives of the fellows

Richard Charles Browne

b.6 July 1911 d.3 March 1980
BA Bristol(1934) BM BCh Oxon(1937) MRCP(1940) DM(1946) FRCP(1964) FFOM(1978)

Richard Charles Browne came to distinction in what was then King’s College of the University of Durham in 1946, as professor of industrial health, a chair newly created by the Nuffield Foundation with the active support of the dean of medicine, RB Green, and the rector of King’s, Lord Eustace Percy.

Browne was born in Bristol, where his father was in a general practice in an industrial area. After school at Clifton, he went on to Wadham College, Oxford, and then to Bristol Medical School, where he gained an honours BA in physiology and was Theodore Williams Scholar in pathology. House appointments in LJ Witt’s medical department at Oxford (where he had Douglas Black, later president of the Royal College of Physicians as a colleague) and in Bristol followed the BM in 1937. His thesis for the Oxford DM in 1946 was based on work carried out while in the RAF medical service in Cambridge, for the Flying Personnel Research Committee.

In his inaugural lecture in Newcastle he defined industrial health as ‘the reciprocal relationship between job, home, and health’. He was adept at anticipating future trends in the University and he successfully piloted the senior common room into enlarged premises as its chairman, thereby fostering better integration of all the faculties. Into the medical faculty he brought a number of innovations in advance of other departments, introducing medical statistics, now a separate department with its own chair; pulmonary physiology, and occupational hygiene, from both of which have come contributions to research and teaching in the University; and an occupational health service mainly to industry in the north-east of England, and further afield.

It was his firm view that ‘There is not or should not be any such thing as "academic" industrial health uninformed by field practice; a service stands in the same relationship to such a department as do hospital beds to its purely clinical counterpart. It provides a good deal of the basic material on which the department runs.’ Perhaps his most significant contribution to the advancement of occupational hygiene as an academic discipline was made a few years before his retirement when, in 1973, he established in his department a postgraduate course leading to the degree of Master of Science in Occupational Hygiene.

In his writing, teaching and professional activities, Richard Browne consistently supported the idea that occupational health problems are best solved by the team approach, in which physicians, hygienists and engineers are involved as equal partners. His research covered a wide range of problems, including ergonomics, pneumoconiosis and nystagmus in coal miners, vanadium poisoning, acid decalcification of teeth, and shipyard accidents. Latterly he conducted a major survey of sports injuries in the North of England for the Sports Council. From the earliest days he used local industry as his source of field work, as the inspiration for two books on occupational medicine, and to enhance the quality of departmental teaching for medical and engineering students. His closest personal contact with industry was through his consultant and committee work with the electricity boards, which continued after his retirement.

Browne was a delightful person to work for; it was his policy to be readily accessible to all members of his staff and to encourage and support them. He enjoyed both travel and being at home. Abroad his expertise was much in demand, and he visited widely in Africa, Europe, and Turkey. At home he delighted in his family, his garden, and the seventh-century church in his village of Corbridge upon Tyne. He was survived by his wife Barbara, a son, and three daughters.

RI McCallum

[Brit.med.J., 1980, 280, 1057; Lancet, 1980, 1, 725]

(Volume VII, page 70)

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