Since the late 1960s, veterinary undergraduates have to thank Tom Ewer for raising the profile of animal behaviour and welfare and placing it firmly into the veterinary curriculum. The lead taken by the UK veterinary schools has since been followed by many other universities, and today farm animal behaviour and welfare features prominently in the curricula of veterinary schools around the world.
The impetus for this change arose from the publication in 1966 of the Royal Commission on the Welfare of Animals in Intensive Husbandry Systems. Ewer, then Professor of Animal Husbandry at Bristol University, served as a member of that committee under the chairmanship of Professor F.W.R. Brambell and during the two-year gestation period he became acutely aware of the dearth of sound scientific information concerning the behaviour of farm animals. Shortly after the publication of the Brambell Report, Ewer persuaded Bristol University to establish the first lectureship in the UK Veterinary Schools dedicated to the subject of animal behaviour.
This development illustrates the vision and application which Ewer brought to his work and life. His active involvement in animal welfare matters did not cease, for he became a founder member of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, later to evolve into the Farm Animal Welfare Council. The UK animal welfare movement which emerged in the 1960s contained some eminent names but Ewer can be regarded as the person who ignited the spark in the veterinary and academic communities.
Ewer's ability as a veterinary educationist was widely recognised around the world. Fresh from the completion of his PhD in Cambridge, in 1950 he was appointed to the Chair of Animal Husbandry and then to be Dean of the new Veterinary School in the University of Queensland, Brisbane. In the latter post he was responsibile for the design and lay-out of the buildings, the curriculum and recruitment of the staff.
Following his retirement from Bristol in 1977, he spent two years establishing a Department of Animal Husbandry at King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia. In between these two challenges he created a Department of Animal Husbandry at Bristol complete with new accommodation for teaching and research activities and to house his expanding staff numbers. Throughout his academic career he was regularly engaged as a consultant by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and visited many countries.
It is perhaps an understatement to say that Ewer was a visionary within the veterinary academic fraternity because he played a prominent role in the development of three veterinary schools in different parts of the world. He also introduced innovations into the curriculum such as student self-learning through involvement in project work, and this year Bristol celebrated the 30th anniversary of the incorporation of student projects into their undergraduate programme.
Ewer was a formidable man: tall, white-haired and distinguished-looking with an ability to glower over his glasses at appropriate times. Initial encounters could elicit doubts and even fear in the minds of undergraduates and postgraduates, but his appearance disguised the real personality. Ewer was fiercely proud of his department, colleagues and students. He was an extremely generous and friendly host to his friends and when examination failures occurred, as they do from time to time, he was greatly concerned for the individual student. It was therefore satisfying for him that all his students succeeded in their examinations towards the end of his final year at Bristol.
He had another life outside his academic activities. He was involved with the local branch of the United Nations Association. He was a leader of the University Settlement, Bristol, a charity attempting to improve the environment of an inner city area, and it was largely for this work that he was appointed OBE in 1978.
He was also a Parish Councillor, member of his local Parish Church Council and a Church-Warden. It was a mystery to his colleagues how he managed to organise his life to accommodate these self-inflicted demands. Apparently he timetabled his days and that practice continued through his retirement.
He was a proud family man. His extended family was spread around the world and he took much pleasure in visiting them and tackling new challenges together with his children and grandchildren - skiing in his seventies, water-skiing in his eighties. The arts attracted him and he developed a strong liking for the opera. Daytime meetings in London serving some committee or other were not uncommonly followed by a visit to the opera in the evening and then the late-night train back to Bristol.
- Graham PerryReuse content