Lives of the fellows

Roger Clark Lowry

b.20 September 1933 d.30 January 2014
OBE(2001) MB BCh BAO Belf(1963) MRCP(1968) FRCP(1981) FRCPI

Roger Clark Lowry was a consultant chest physician at Belfast City Hospital. He was born in Belfast, the son of Henry Lowry, a company managing director, and educated first at Down High School in Downpatrick and then at Campbell College, Belfast, before he went on to read economics at Queen’s University, Belfast, where he was elected president of the students’ union. He was a gifted sportsman who excelled at squash, tennis, cricket and golf. He represented his university at cricket and Ulster at squash.

Initially he intended to join his father’s accountancy firm in Belfast. However, the appeal of medicine proved irresistible – influenced, no doubt, by his two older brothers (John became an orthopaedic surgeon and Sidney a medical physicist in oncology), but perhaps also because two of his closest friends were already studying medicine. The net result was that both Roger and Sidney ended up as mature medical students in the same year, graduating at Queen’s in 1963.

After junior hospital appointments in his native city and gaining his MRCP, Roger specialised in respiratory medicine and pursued postgraduate studies at Hammersmith Hospital (where he worked as a registrar in chest medicine with Peter Stradling [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web]). He was then appointed to a consultant post in respiratory medicine at Belfast City Hospital, where he was to work for the remainder of his professional life – subsequently becoming head of the respiratory investigation centre there. From 1976 to 1977 he spent a sabbatical year as an associate professor of medicine and chief of pulmonary medicine at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.

Roger also played a major role in the Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke charity, serving as its regional chairman for almost 30 years – for which he was awarded an OBE in 2001. Indeed, the charity still awards, annually, the Roger Lowry medal for research into chest, heart and stroke illnesses. He retired in 1998, but for several years thereafter he retained an interest in general internal and respiratory medicine by offering expert medico-legal advice.

Outside the world of medicine, Roger and his wife Joan, a former Royal Victoria Hospital trained nurse, lived in the outskirts of Newtownards, County Down, overlooking the Scrabo Tower. The Lowrys were warm and gregarious hosts and were well-known for their memorable musical soirées and other parties in their spacious home. They had a large family (four sons and a daughter), all of whom married and presented their parents with 13 grandchildren. Roger and Joan were devoted parents and their offspring and grandchildren played a major role throughout their lives.

Roger’s penchant for travel started when he was an undergraduate. During the long vacation of 1956, he worked in Canada for the Duke Drilling Company (owned by a branch of the Guinness family) in Calgary, together with two fellow students from Queen’s. This provided them with the unique opportunity of exploring Banff, Lake Louise, and other famous beauty spots in the Canadian Rockies, and of visiting national parks south of Calgary on the US-Canadian border. At the end of the summer, Roger hitchhiked to southern Florida, where he met up with his brother Sidney and together they explored Cuba in the immediate pre-Castro era.

Roger had a charismatic personality and an extrovert sense of humour. These gregarious qualities ensured that he was an excellent catalyst at any social gathering. He had a large repertoire of after-dinner stories and jokes – not all of which were suitable for all occasions! Although the Lowry family were traditional Methodists, they had little time for sectarianism: instead, they adopted a large circle of friends from both sides of the divide, and from north and south of Ireland alike.

Roger’s sporting prowess continued throughout most of his life, first on the squash court and then on the golf course, a talent shared by his offspring. Roger and his son Kevin played competitive squash on the same ‘Old Campbellian’ team. He was a member of both the Royal Belfast and the Royal County Down golf clubs, and even when his Parkinson’s disease was well-advanced, he remained remarkably stoical about it and managed to continue playing golf – albeit with the aid of medication and the need for a buggy to complete 18 holes. He managed to celebrate his 80th birthday, in September 2013, with 60 members of his family and friends at his local golf club. Although the ‘birthday boy’ was far from well, he still managed to enjoy the event and the many fitting accolades which were paid to him on that occasion.

Towards the end of his life, Parkinson’s disease, and its associated medication, took their toll. Roger’s symptoms led ultimately to a clinical diagnosis of dementia with Lewy bodies. Ironically, Roger’s wife Joan was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease – despite which she remained cheerful and fiercely loyal to her husband and her family. She was an invaluable and loving support to her husband throughout their 50 years of marriage.

Roger Lowry was survived by his wife, their five children and 13 grandchildren, his three brothers, John, Sidney and Eric, and their families.

Hermon Dowling

(Volume XII, page web)

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