Professor Gemmell Morgan

Medical biochemistry dynamo


Henry Gemmell Morgan, medical biochemist: born Dundee 25 December 1922; consultant in clinical biochemistry Dundee Royal Infirmary 1952-65; Professor of Pathological Biochemistry, Glasgow University 1965-88 (Emeritus); Chairman, Association of Clinical Biochemists (UK) 1982-85, President 1985-87; married 1949 Margaret Duncan (one daughter); died Glasgow 31 October 2006.

Gemmell Morgan was an ebullient character who built up, almost from scratch, the UK's largest medical biochemistry department. He was the only consultant chemical pathologist in Glasgow when he arrived, and when he left it had four consultants, dozens of doctors in training posts, and a large team of non-medical biochemists. His former trainees now populate the chemical pathology departments of the nation's hospitals.

He was appointed in 1966, moving from a three-month post at the falling-down Glasgow children's hospital to a department housed in a temporary building on the wrong side of Castle Street and in the path of a new motorway. There was little equipment and the staff consisted of one registrar, seven scientists, 20 technicians and two typists.

His ambition was to establish an undergraduate teaching course, postgraduate teaching and recruitment, and a research-friendly ambience that would encourage research. He immediately hit it off with staff. He told his chief technician, "All I can promise you is blood, tears, sweat and hard work." He told the lone registrar that he wanted two more consultants, four registrars and four senior registrars. She smiled wryly; he said, "Don't laugh"; she replied, "Why not?"

A week into the job, he lodged a request based on functional reasoning for a new building. Over the next two years he refined his plans after visiting labs in Scandinavia and the United States. Thanks to his efforts, a new 3,000-square-metre biochemistry department opened in 1981. By the time he retired, seven years later, the Institute of Clinical Biochemistry housed millions of pounds worth of research projects including the US-funded $25m lipid-lowering study called the West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study. Over 22 years the department had produced 24 consultant medical biochemists including five full professors, and many top-grade and principal biochemists. Students and staff had written 1,300 papers and 45 theses.

Gemmell Morgan was born in Dundee, the son of a well known physician, and educated at Dundee High School and Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh. He went to the medical school in Dundee - then part of St Andrews University. In 1941, while he was 18 and a first-year medical student, he got a rare muscle cancer, a desmosarcoma the size of a fist, in his thigh: the standard treatment would have meant hindquarter amputation, so he chose the experimental radiotherapy, for which he had to commute to Edinburgh. The first two courses of treatment were followed by relapse, but the third was successful.

After house-officer jobs in Dundee hospitals, and short spells in paediatrics in Kent and in general practice near Dundee, he was drawn to the challenges of pathology - not to the study of biopsy tissue and dead bodies, but to the new subject of clinical biochemistry. His enthusiasm led to his appointment in charge of clinical chemistry at Dundee Royal Infirmary in 1952, and he immediately designed an intensive course for medical students. His department had two small rooms and an office when he arrived; he expanded it tenfold over his 14 years there, and installed state-of-the-art technology - a flame photometer, blood gas analyser and multichannel autoanalyser.

The peak of his research career was at Dundee. His interests were in vitamin D and calcium metabolism, and on the chemistry of atherosclerosis. He took 1956-57 out, researching calcium metabolism on a Fulbright research fellowship to Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore. This taught him that good clinical practice comes from fundamental knowledge arising from research. It also led him to the discovery of a post-war UK public health blunder. Following experiments on chickens, the Government fortified cod liver oil with vitamin D2, using doses suitable for poultry. Infants are more sensitive than fowl to the vitamin, and cases of infantile hypercalcaemia emerged. He rushed his findings to The Lancet in 1956, and the fortification scheme was quietly dropped.

The committee that appointed Morgan to the new chair of Pathological Biochemistry at Glasgow, meeting behind closed doors, decided that, though he was a firebrand, he was worth the risk.

Gemmell Morgan was Chairman, and then President, of the Association of Clinical Biochemists. His triumphant disdain for the other kind of pathologists - he called them "the dead meat boys" who got the last word, while biochemical pathologists diagnosed the living - meant he never held high office in the Royal College of Pathologists. He was always rocking the boat. Outspoken, vigorous, hugely popular, usually cheerful and often tactless, he was often told, "You can't say that, Gemmell" - to which he would reply, "Oh yes I can."

His recreations included reading, politics, travel, history and golf. In later life he had strong views on Palestine and the Iraq war, and was an active supporter of nuclear power, pointing out that it was a clean source of energy and had saved his life.

The tumour on his thigh never completely disappeared. In 1979, at a conference in Mexico, he developed a blockage in the main artery of his thigh, along with a ballooning of the aorta immediately above it - a consequence of the radiotherapy he underwent when young. He was flown back to Glasgow, where the Professor of Surgery, John Pollock, grafted Dacron into the aorta and told Morgan it would last 10-15 years. It lasted nearly 30 before it finally killed him.

Gemmell Morgan is survived by his wife Margaret and daughter Imogen, both doctors, and two grandchildren, one of whom is a medical student.

Caroline Richmond

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links