Lives of the fellows

Peter Orchard Williams

b.23 September 1925 d.25 July 2014
CBE(1991) MB BChir Cantab(1950) MRCP(1952) FRCP(1970) Hon DSc Birm(1989) Hon DM Nottingham(1990) Hon DSc West Indies(1991) Hon DSc Glasg(1992) Hon DM Oxford(1993)

Peter Orchard Williams was director of the Wellcome Trust from 1965 to 1991, during which time he oversaw the Trust’s transformation into a global charitable foundation.

He was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, the son of Agnes Annie Williams née Birkinshaw and Robert Orchard Williams, a botanist. He had planned to follow in his father’s footsteps in his choice of career, but decided to switch to medicine. He studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, and St Mary’s Hospital Medical School, qualifying in 1950.

After house and registrar posts at St Mary’s and the Royal Free hospitals, he spent two years carrying out his National Service as a medical specialist in the RAMC. In 1956 he joined the Medical Research Council as a medical officer.

In 1960 he moved on to the Wellcome Trust, which at that time had just four administrators, gave £1 million annually to fund research, and was entirely dependent on the profits of the Wellcome pharmaceutical company for its income. Williams strengthened the administration of the Trust, recruited specialist researchers to foster dialogue with potential grant applicants, and encouraged staff to look for suitable projects which might receive funding.

To ensure the long-term financial security of the Trust, the Wellcome pharmaceutical company was sold off in three stages from 1986 to 1995, and the profits invested. By the time Williams retired in 1991, the Trust was on the way to becoming an entirely independent charitable foundation and its annual disbursements had risen to £100 million.

In 1971 Williams helped found the Hague Club, a think-tank made up of chief executives of major private foundations in Europe. He was also active in the Association of Medical Research Charities. He was president of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from 1991 to 1993. He was awarded a CBE in 1991.

He was a keen traveller, a knowledgeable gardener and a fan of cricket. He married Billie Innes Brown, a fellow medical student, in 1949. Predeceased by his wife in 2007, he was survived by their two daughters, Judith and Sherry, and five grandchildren.

RCP editor

[The Wellcome Trust. News. The Wellcome Trust pays tribute to Peter Williams, its first Director. – accessed 19 September 2016; The Lancet 2014 384 (9960) 2104 – accessed 19 September 2016; The Guardian 15 August 2014 – accessed 19 September 2016; The Financial Times 1 August 2014 – accessed 19 September 2016]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List