Lives of the fellows

John Washington Orr

b.5 August 1901 d.17 June 1984
MB BCh BAO Belf(1923) BSc(1924) DPH(1924) MD(1926) MRCP(1940) FRCP(1950)

John Orr was born in Belfast, the son of Frederick William and Elizabeth (née Strathdee) Orr. He received his scholastic education at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, proceeding to Queen’s University, Belfast, where he won many scholarships. As a medical student he became firmly committed to a career in pathology, and after graduation was successively Riddell demonstrator and Musgrave student in pathology at Belfast. In 1926 he was appointed first assistant pathologist and assistant curator of the museum at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, where he remained for six years. By this time he had become deeply interested in the pathology of malignant disease, and had published many valuable papers relating to his research in this area of medicine. He then moved to Leeds as assistant director of cancer research and lecturer in experimental pathology, and five years later he was promoted reader.

At the outbreak of the second world war he was designated an EMS pathologist, and he continued as such until the termination of hostilities, also serving as a battalion medical officer in the Home Guard. In 1946-47 he was president of the Leeds Pathological Club, and in 1948 he was appointed director of cancer research and professor of pathology in the University of Birmingham and honorary pathologist to the United Birmingham Hospitals. At that time his fellow professors in Birmingham included Solly Zuckerman, later Lord Zuckerman, Lancelot Hogben, Tom McKeown (q.v.), John Squire [Munk's Roll, Vol. VI, p.412], Alastair Frazer [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.186] and Melville Arnott, later Sir Melville. Orr complemented this brilliant team most effectively for, in addition to high intelligence and great industry, he had by this time acquired a wide experience of pathology, and in the field of malignancy he was the acknowledged national expert.

He was a member of the British National Committee on Cancer and of the committee of the British Association of Cancer Research, and was visiting scientist at the National Cancer Research Institute USA. He was also Commonwealth Visitor at the Universities of Malaya and Hong Kong. For many years he was an editor of the Journal of Pathology and Bacteriology, and he held office in the Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, the Association of Clinical Pathologists, the Royal Society of Medicine and the British Medical Association.

When Orr reached retiring age in 1966 he went for a year to the Detroit Institute of Cancer Research as a senior research pathologist, and thereafter he spent three years as a research pathologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Bournemouth, before finally retiring to Ealing where he lived for the remainder of his life. He was opposed to the foundation of the Royal College of Pathologists and never took any part in its activities.

Orr was a friendly, modest man, a most helpful colleague, and was intensely loyal and supportive to everyone in his department. A strong sense of humour and wide interests made his company always a pleasure. Throughout his life he was a devout member of the Presbyterian Church and, in Birmingham, he played the organ and was an elder of the church in Moseley. Music was one of his main leisure interests, and he played the viola in one of the quartets at the Univerity of Birmingham. He also enjoyed golf at Ganton and Edgbaston, and was a keen bridge player.

He married Nora Margaret, the second daughter of David and Margaret Carmichael. His wife died following cardiac surgery in 1965. There were two children of the marriage, one of whom followed a career in biochemistry.

AGW Whitfield

[Brit.med.J., 1984,289,57; Bournemouth Evening Echo, 11 Nov 1967]

(Volume VIII, page 365)

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