OBITUARY : John Stamp

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The Independent Online
In the world where sheep come into contact with science, there has been no more famous name than that of John Stamp.

In the early 1960s, the hill farmers in my constituency of West Lothian suffered from a number of sheep diseases, resulting in perinatal and abortion troubles which threatened to stop their livelihood. It was natural that we should turn to Stamp, who in 1964 was given the George Hedley Award, the laureate medallion, of the Council of the National Sheep Breeders Association, "for outstanding services to the sheep industry".

William Martin, his successor as Director of the Moredun Institute of Animal Diseases in Edinburgh, says: "Stamp knew farmers, understood their problems and was able to give effective advice and help; and this he applied when he ran the Veterinary Investigation Service from 1948 to 1954 and was director of the Moredun for the following quarter of a century." My farming constituents were exceedingly grateful.

John Stamp came of a mother and father who were both teachers. Born in Grimsby in 1915, he was brought up in the Potteries and then moved to Edinburgh to study veterinary science and veterinary pathology at the Royal (Dick) Veterinary College.

He made his name very early in his career with a study of the pathogenesis of bovine tuberculosis, for which he was given a DSc. He went on to specialise in tick-borne fever and the enzootic abortion of ewes. He was the first to study nematodirus, a worm-related disease, as a parasite and, with the bacteriologist E.D. McEwen, pioneered the clean field method for its prevention. Their findings on clamidia and the related problems of abortion in ewes are recognised as seminal. As Martin puts it: "Some of the work which Stamp undertook on scrapie with colleagues at the Animal Breeding Research Organisation in Edinburgh is of increasing importance with the current interest in BSE."

There must be hardly a student working in this area who does not owe something to Stamp's books and articles in learned journals. In 1969 agricultural scientists at the Moredun developed a safe vaccine to combat louping-ill in sheep - another tick-borne infection which proved a major problem in the British sheep industry.

His outstanding work in the field of animal health gained Stamp in 1976 the Bledisloe Veterinary Award. At the beginning of his tenure in 1954 the Moredun had a staff of 30 and an annual budget of pounds 40,000. When he retired he handed over to William Martin one of the most distinguished animal disease centres in the world with a staff of 180 and a budget which had increased 30-fold. Stamp had succeeded Russell Greig, who believed that institutes, to do good work, should remain small: rather like an enlarged family. It is the considered judgement of Professor Ian Aitken, the present director of the Moredun, that Stamp grasped the opportunity provided by the public desire in the mid-1950s to improve animal health and production and used very skilfully this groundswell of opinion to win money to build up what is now an internationally distinguished research centre. He captured the spirit of the decade and fitted the requirements of the time in his drive for expansion.

Stamp was one of those Englishmen who have contributed hugely to public and scientific life north of the border. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, he was active in the Pathological and Bacteriological Society of Great Britain. He was the senior examiner in veterinary pathology and bacteriology for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in London, who honoured him by making him their president in 1970. He chaired several committees of the World Food and Agricultural Organisation on specialist animal health problems. In 1970 the decision of the British Council to hold a course on the management of diseases in sheep was taken as a compliment not only to Scotland but to the two city-based organisations in Edinburgh, that of Moredun and the Hill Farming Research Institute.

Stamp's activity for the community was by no means limited to science. He was the founder of the East Lothian Yacht Club and the instigator of a number of competitions involving as many as 130 boats. And, astonishingly for an Englishman, he was asked to be the president of the North Berwick Burns Club. Any Englishman asked to be a Burns club president has really "arrived" north of the border.

Tam Dalyell

John Trevor Stamp, veterinary scientist: born Grimsby 3 December 1915; Director, Moredun Institute of Animal Diseases, 1954-77; FRSE 1956; President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in London 1970; CBE 1973; married 1941 Margaret Scott (two sons, one daughter); died Haddington 6 December 1996.