Obituary: Stephen Waley
Saturday 01 January 1994
A BIO-ORGANIC chemist of distinction, Stephen Waley was noted for his contributions to knowledge of the mechanism by which enzymes exert their activity by converting one chemical substance to another.
Waley was born in 1922, educated at St Paul's School, west London, and Balliol College, Oxford, and obtained a First Class degree in the Oxford School of Natural Sciences in 1943. His father, Sir David Waley, whom he resembled in appearance and manner, was a public servant in the Treasury.
Waley's introduction to research came in 1943, when he was a member of a group led by Professor Sir Robert Robinson in the Dyson Perrins Laboratory whose object was the synthesis of penicillin. After obtaining a DPhil in 1945 he joined Courtaulds Research Laboratory but found this to be not entirely congenial, although he was able to produce publications in some areas of interest to him. In 1953 he was able to return for a year to the Dyson Perrins as a postdoctoral research fellow. A year later he became more or less permanently established in the academic environment most suited to him, when he was appointed to the position of Senior Research Officer in the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology in Oxford.
Waley's book Mechanisms of Organic and Enzymic Reactions (1962) gives an excellent account of the linkage between the two fields at the time. During this period, he made an extensive study of proteins of the lens of the eye and discovered, inter alia, active ophthalmic acids in the lens that were analogous of glutathione. He also began an impressive study of the structure of the glycolytic enzyme triosephosphate isomerase.
In 1970 Waley moved to the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, also in Oxford, when he was invited to fill an unexpected vacancy. He was encouraged to make this move by the thought that ophthalmology might soon become almost entirely clinical and offer him less scope for his research interests.
In pathology he first continued his studies of triosephosphate isomerase. These facilitated the determination by Sir David Phillips and his colleagues in the Department of Molecular Biophysics of a three-dimensional structure of the enzyme by X-ray analysis at high resolution. He then turned his attention to the B-lactamase group of enzymes which had long been studied in his new laboratory and which had an important role in the resistance of some bacteria to penicillins and cephalosporins. He threw new light on the structure and mode of action of several different classes of these important enzymes and introduced a new procedure for their purification.
Waley retired in 1989 but he found a home in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and continued research until shortly before his death. Ample evidence of his abilities is to be found in his 147 publications and one feels that there might well have been some wider recognition of what he had accomplished. However, he received many invitations to lecture abroad. In 1964 he became, one of the first Fellows of Linacre College and his academic merit and his devotion to the college later led him to be elected to a unique stipendiary Senior Research Fellowship.
Waley's wide reading and personal contacts gave him an unusually extensive knowledge of research by others, not all related to his own, and he was a constant attender of evening meetings of an Oxford Enzyme Group.
He was a gentle, modest, and friendly man who had a contented domestic life.
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