Lives of the fellows

Herbert Michael Joseph Gilles

b.10 September 1921 d.20 October 2015
CMG(2005) BSc Malta(1943) MD(1946) DTM&H(1950) BSc Oxon(1951) MRCP(1963) FRCP(1969) FFCM(1972) KStJ(2006) FFPH Hon MD Karolinska

Herbert Gilles was dean of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and an international expert on malaria and tropical medicine. Many believed he was Maltese due to the many honours bestowed on him from Malta, but he was born in Port Said, Egypt. His father, Joseph Michael Gilles, was a chandler who supplied ships travelling along the Suez Canal; his mother was Clementine Gilles née Farrugia. Herbert was initially educated in French at Port Said. Aged 11, he was sent as a boarder to the newly-opened St Edward’s College in Malta for an English education, at £60 a year a cheaper alternative to the English School in Cairo. There he excelled and subsequently enrolled in the medical course at the Royal University of Malta. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War, where he served in the Royal Malta Artillery, manning an anti-aircraft battery during the Siege of Malta.

In 1943, he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to the University of Oxford, but due to ongoing hostilities was unable to take this up until 1948. He gained a BSc from Oxford in 1951. This period also included time out in 1950 to do the diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene, which sparked his interest in tropical diseases.

His first encounter with sub-Saharan Africa was in 1954, when he was appointed to the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council unit in the Gambia. In 1958, he was appointed as a lecturer at large in tropical diseases by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine seconded to the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. After a productive time in both Ibadan and Lagos, at the University of Lagos’ College of Medicine, he returned to Liverpool in 1968, becoming a professor in 1970 and from 1978 to 1983 served as dean.

After his retirement in 1986, Herbert continued to teach on the diploma of tropical medicine and hygiene course, and in 1988 responded to a call by his alma mater to strengthen the Malta Medical School, travelling there three times a year in an honorary capacity to run a public health and infectious diseases programme.

In 2005, he was made a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George in the Queen’s Birthday honours for services to tropical medicine. In 2006, he was made a Knight of Malta and in 2008 a Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant by the King of Thailand, both for services to medicine.

Herbert was an exceptionally bright but modest and gregarious individual who touched the lives of many worldwide, challenging them to excel in his own quiet way. Two weeks after taking up my post as director of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in 2001, Herbert arrived at my office door with an invitation to lunch. He used this to ascertain my vision and ambition for the school and myself, and half-jokingly set me three stretch targets. I was not allowed to pay for one of our quarterly lunches until all three were achieved. We celebrated reaching the targets at our final lunch in 2012, shortly before he retired to the south of England to be nearer his children.

Herbert was a keen swimmer, who loved being close to the sea. In the 1970s he bought a property in St Paul’s Bay, Malta, where he, his wife Wilhelmina (née Caruana) and their four children could spend their summers. Mina was sadly killed in a car accident in 1972. In 1979, he married Mejra Kačić-Dimitri, a World Health Organization consultant, who died in 2009. In his will, Herbert requested that his ashes be scattered across St Paul’s Bay.

Herbert was survived by three sons and a daughter, and six grandchildren. His son Michael is a partner at a Canadian insurance firm, Robert is a television journalist, Marisa is a rural health physician and associate professor at the Western Australian Centre for Rural Health and Anthony is a chartered legal executive based in Devon.

Janet Hemingway

[LSTM In Memoriam: Emeritus Dean and Professor in Topical Medicine Herbert Michael Gilles (1921-2015) – accessed 19 February 2019; Liverpool Echo 23 October 2015 – accessed 19 February 2019; Times of Malta 8 November 2015 – accessed 19 February 2019; BMJ 2015 351 6176 – accessed 19 February 2019; The Lancet 2015 386 2052 – accessed 19 February 2019]

(Volume XII, page web)

<< Back to List