Obituary: Ernest Foulkes

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The Independent Online
Ernest Martin Foulkes, scientist, engineer, businessman and medical philanthropist: born Frankfurt 24 May 1902; Chairman and Managing Director, Measuring and Scientific Equipment (MSE) 1936-72; Founder Chairman, Foulkes Foundation 1974-93; married 1935 Senta Brodtmann (one daughter); died London 9 May 1993.

WHILE developing and running his laboratory equipment company, Measuring and Scientific Equipment (MSE) in the post-war years, Ernest Foulkes became increasingly aware of the need in medical research for more doctors who were highly trained in both scientific research and clinical medicine and who would be able to translate new scientific knowledge into clinical practice and to direct scientific research towards medically important goals. Many young postdoctoral scientists who wished to embark on medical research faced financial difficulties if they decided to return to university.

When Foulkes sold MSE to Fisons in 1972, he endowed the Foulkes Foundation with a considerable sum of money. Its purpose was to assist annually six to eight exceptionally able young scientists selected by a panel of scientists and doctors, to train in medicine. So far, over 120 Foulkes Fellowships have been appointed. In 1982 Foulkes extended the operations of the foundation to Israel, with special emphasis on biotechnology. A number of the Fellows have attained senior medical academic posts, including professorships. This gave Foulkes great satisfaction and he continued to keep in touch with many of them.

Foulkes was born in Frankfurt in 1902. After leaving school he studied at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin. He specialised in factory planning and in 1929 obtained a doctorate in engineering. Observing the rise of Nazism, he left Germany for Spain in 1933, where he was joined by his fiancee, Senta. They married, but realised that the Spanish political climate was becoming as untenable as in Germany, and in 1936 they came to Britain. Starting out with little capital, but equipped with expertise, energy and determination, Foulkes established MSE to make machine tools, then in short supply in Britain. In spite of this, when war with Germany broke out, bureaucracy decreed that he be interned on the Isle of Man, as a 'friendly enemy alien' for a year.

After the war, MSE turned to the development of centrifuges and other specialised laboratory equipment. Because he was always eager to observe scientists at work in their laboratories, Foulkes designed and produced efficient and safe equipment tailored to their requirements. He also offered an exceptionally good service for making modifications to match the scientists' expectations with the equipment's performance. As a result MSE established itself as a 'best buy' the world over, and in 1966 the company was one of the first to win the Queen's Award for export achievement.

Ernest Foulkes identifiedthe need to revitalise Britain as an industrial country: as a scientist, he developed a profitable and innovative business; as a successful businessman he invested the profits of the company in the education and training of the next generation for the benefit of the country that had given him the opportunity to use his gifts to the full.

His final years were marred by failing eyesight and painful arthritis. He is survived by his wife and his daughter, Maureen, who has taken over the chairmanship of the Foulkes Foundation.