Lives of the fellows

Emmanuel Ciprian Amoroso

b.16 September 1901 d.30 October 1982
CBE(1969) TC(1977) MB BCh BAO Dubl(1929) FRCS(1960) MD NUI(1964) FRCOG(1965) FRCP*(1966) FRCPath(1973) FRS(1957)†

EC Amoroso, who died at the age of 81, enjoyed a life marked with honour and crowded with friends. He graduated in medicine in 1929 from the National University of Ireland. By the end of his professional career, he had the unique distinction of being a fellow of four of the Royal Colleges: Surgeons in 1960, Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1965, Physicians in 1966, and Pathologists in 1973. He had been elected FRS in 1957, so far the only native-born West Indian to achieve that particular distinction.

The Trinidad into which ‘Amo’ was born was vastly different from what it is today. It was then a colony with a population of fewer than a quarter of a million, a small number privileged and rich, but most poor; a people of mixed and different blood; a polyglot world where Amo presumably began to acquire his remarkable linguistic gifts.

Amo was not born among the rich. Nor did he win one of the only four scholarships that were then available to native Trinidadians who wanted to study at a British university. In his early twenties, he managed to make his own way to Ireland where, after a short time, he was able to enter University College, Dublin - now the National University. A first-class mind, powered by a determination to succeed in the professional, sophisticated and competitive world to which he was attracted, did the rest. Prizeman throughout his years at the University, and then armed with a medical degree, he spent a year on a travelling scholarship in Germany before becoming, in 1933, a temporary demonstrator in histology and embryology at University College London.

Two years later he was appointed to a permanent post in the same disciplines at the Royal Veterinary College. After twelve years, he was elected to the chair of physiology, an office which he retained until his retirement in 1968, when he was made professor emeritus.

But it was retirement only in a statutory sense. Nothing could stop Amo from keeping abreast of, and working in, what had become his chosen field of study - reproductive physiology.

His first published paper (1931) was on the epithelium of the pancreas. It followed classical anatomical lines. Then came others on diverse topics. Twenty years passed before he began to focus on the problem of placentation, with which his name will be best remembered. Here his gift of synthesis found full play. He threw new light on the evolutionary adaptation of the placenta for viviparous reproduction, his conclusions being based not just on his own researches and experience as a microanatomist and general biologist, but on his familiarity with the literature in several disciplines.

His work always bore the mark of critical scholarship. He saw scientific problems ‘in the round’, and it was a manifestation of his nature that he never sought to impress by the dotting of i’s and the crossing of t’s, or by adding some trivial, even if interesting, new observation to generalisations that were already established.

So it was that in his candidature for the fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians he listed as the first of his important publications, not some conventional monograph on a piece of personal research, but a review of ‘ovarian activity during gestation, ovum transport and implantation’, which he had contributed to a two-volume (now three-volume) work on the ovary.

Amo had an exceptional memory, and a gift for expression to which he gave full and pleasurable rein whether in a letter, or in the way he addressed an audience, or in his lectures to students, which were always delivered in the rotund classical manner that had been current in his student days. His way of saying things often sounded unduly flowery, but if he had said them differently, if he had stumbled over his words, if his sentences had not been properly phrased, it would not have been Amo. Amo was not one for the solitary life. His style was idiosyncratic, and no one would have guessed from his social graces, or in the way he smoked a cigar, that he had been a successful amateur boxer in his twenties.

In 1964, as chairman of the British Society of Endocrinology, he had to preside over the Second International Congress of Endocrinology in London. Amo was in his element. There was a flourish to all he did. The late George Corner, the foremost of the overseas guests at the conferences, tells in his memoirs how impressed and surprised he was when he found that he was to be furnished with a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce during his stay in London. Only Amo, brought up in a country ruled over by a resplendent, plumed Governor, who presumably was driven about in a colourful carriage, could have thought of that.

The Zoological Society of London, of which he became a fellow in 1947, benefited greatly from Amo’s broad experience, his diverse interests, and his deep humanity.

When, in 1963, Sir Arthur Lewis resigned the vice-chancellorship of the new University of the West Indies, Amo was suggested as a possible successor. He seemed uninterested. If approached formally, he clearly must have declined, although later he became the representative for Trinidad and Tobago on a Commonwealth scientific committee. Amo preferred to stay in England, intellectually alert to the end, and always enjoying the glamour of life in the country that had once been the centre of the Empire, the centre to which he had been beckoned from a small colony sixty years before.

Lord Zuckerman

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

† The list of honorary degrees is too lengthy to include in entirety.

[, 1982, 285, 1569; Lancet, 1982, 2, 1230; Times, 4 Nov 1982]

(Volume VII, page 10)

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