Obituary: Professor Gwendolen Rees

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The Independent Online
Florence Gwendolen Rees, helminthologist: born Aberdare 3 July 1906; Lecturer in Zoology, UCW, Aberystwyth 1930-46, Senior Lecturer 1946-66, Reader 1966-71, Professor of Zoology 1971-73 (Emeritus); FRS 1971; died Aberystwyth 4 October 1994.

GWENDOLEN REES made an outstanding contribution, in her own work and as a director of research, to the development of parasitology, and many of her original ideas have proved to be fundamental to the study of parasitic worms.

A world-wide authority on her subject, Gwen Rees was one of the first parasitologists to extend her investigations beyond the study of adult parasites in humans and in domestic livestock to larval and adult stages in invertebrates and all the vertebrate groups, with a special fascination for the helminths, or parasitic worms, of fishes. Her interests encompassed comparative and functional morphology, parasite life-cycles, the ecology of both host and parasite and the factors contributing at all levels to the nature of the parasite's host.

Rees was born in 1906, in the small mining town of Aberdare in South Wales.

Educated at the town's Intermediate School for Girls, she won three scholarships for her entrance in 1924 to University College, Cardiff, where she obtained an excellent Honours degree in zoology from the department headed by the authority on crustacean systematics Professor WM Tattersall.

She remained in Cardiff and began in 1928, with her doctoral thesis, her lifelong commitment to the subject to which she was to make such an outstanding contribution, the study of the helminths of animals and man.

Completed in 1930, her thesis examined the occurrence and life cycles of larval flukes parasitic in molluscs in south-east Wales with special relevance to liver-fluke disease, caused by adult flukes in sheep, then as now a significant problem in livestock.

At the invitation of Professor RD Laurie, the distinguished zoologist , Rees joined the Department of Zoology at University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, as an assistant lecturer in 1930. There, she established the study of parasitology, as she had done in Cardiff, and went on to make the department one of the main British centres for helminthological research and teaching with an international reputation.

During her long career at UCW, Rees held the posts of Senior Lecturer (1946-66) and Reader in Zoology (1966-71). Her achievements were recognised by the award of a Personal Chair in 1971 and in 1972 she became the first Welsh woman Fellow of the Royal Society. Rees was the Vice-President (1970-72) and President (1972-74) of the British Society for Parasitology, and a member and later Chairman of the Editorial Board of the journal Parasitology from 1960 to 1981. In a career extending from 1930 to the mid-1980s, she published 68 original research papers and trained many students who, in their turn, developed and disseminated her ideas and principles to a much wider audience in Britain and abroad. From 1973 onwards, she was Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales, continuing her own active research programme and assisting with teaching.

Gwen Rees was a dedicated, methodical and meticulous research worker with a tough-minded, questioning approach and a powerful determination to pursue her investigations to their conclusions. Her published papers are models of succinct, lucid prose enhanced by beautifully drawn illustrations in a characteristically elegant style often emulated but never surpassed. She also enjoyed teaching and possessed the gift of conveying to others her own intense enthusiasm for her subject. An excellent verbal communicator, she was a stimulating and provoking lecturer.

I first met Gwen in the 1960s, as a undergraduate in the Department of Zoology in UCW, Aberystwyth. A small, elegant, immaculately groomed woman with dark hair walked out in front of the class and began, in a soft voice, to tell us about a group of animals which clearly fascinated her. By the end of her course, I had switched allegiance from botany to helminthology and had the privilege of studying with her. On closer acquaintance, she proved to have a vivacious, entertaining personality, and a natural kindliness; and she was generous with invitations. She would probably have been astounded to know how her example inspired generations of women students to pursue their own careers in many different fields.

(Photographs omitted)