Obituary: Professor K. C. Sellers
Wednesday 20 January 1993
A MAN of military aspect, somewhat incongruously dressed in the white robes of a tribal chieftain, with a cluster of foliage on his shoulder, looks out of a photograph that arrived on the editor's desk at the Veterinary Record some 20 years ago. It was of KC Sellers, Professor of Veterinary Pathology at the University of Ibadan.
Ken Sellers had taken up the post in Nigeria late in his career when the Farm Livestock Research Centre of the Animal Health Trust closed down in 1971. He had been appointed as the centre's first director when it was set up at Stock, in Essex, by the AHT's founder, Reg Wooldridge, in 1955. Sellers led an enthusiastic team in research projects into a wide variety of infectious and metabolic problems in cattle, pigs and sheep. The team recruited and led by him was inspired by his enthusiasm and his brilliance. Dozens of papers and articles resulted as the research centre got into its stride.
However, the government-funded Institute of Research into Animal Diseases at Compton largely took over the role that the Farm Livestock Centre had been created to fulfil. Fund-raising became increasingly difficult and the closure became inevitable.
It was typical of Sellers that he put as much enthusiasm and effort into finding jobs for his staff as he had done into the running of the research centre. Those colleagues went on to develop their own distinguished careers; all pay tribute to the grounding they received under his tutelage.
Sellers qualified as a veterinary surgeon in 1937, adding a B Sc to his MRCVS before moving to Cambridge in a research post. Progress towards his Ph D was delayed by the Second World War, in which he was commissioned into the Royal Marine Commandos, a move which hinted at the strength of character latent in the scientific worker. It was during the war that he met and married Ruth Hirsch, his staunch companion thereafter.
He joined the Veterinary Investigation Service of the Ministry of Agriculture in 1948: from his post as a Ministry vet Wooldridge plucked him to run the Farm Livestock Research Station.
Ken Sellers was nothing if not whole-hearted in the part he played in the communities in which he lived as well as in his work. He lectured widely; he was a governor of Chelmsford Grammar School and the local College of Further Education. A keen, if unorthodox, golfer, he also played bowls and, following a visit to France, boules.
Sellers was one of a now extinct breed of scientist, the generalist. Not only did he do work on all species of farm animal, he studied the distribution of biting midges, discovering a new one, culicoides sellersi (named after him), in the process. He studied drug resistance in livestock, investigated infertility problems in cattle and the effects of parasitism, on animal production. One of his last publications (with FB Leech) was on statistical aspects of epidemiology. It was this breadth of interests that made him such an invaluable acquisition to the developing veterinary school at Ibadan.
His translocation to Nigeria in his mid-fifties brought a new dimension to his activities. He applied his administrative skills to running his department, organised the teaching of students, ran a diagnostic pathology service and embarked upon new fields of research. He and his wife entered so thoroughly into the life of the local community - Mrs Sellers was involved with a school for deaf children - that after only two years in Nigeria, he was made an honorary chieftain with the title Akorede of Eruwa. It was a photograph of him in his chieftain's robes that the Veterinary Record published. In 1976, he returned to England, where he enjoyed his retirement at Stock.
Ken Sellers will be remembered for his contributions to veterinary science and, by those who know him, for his qualities as a friend and a helpful and supportive colleague.
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