Obituary: George John Romanes, 97

Prof George Romanes in 1959. Picture: TSPL
Prof George Romanes in 1959. Picture: TSPL
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FRIENDS and family have paid tribute to George John Romanes, a decorated anatomist who will be remembered by the thousands of medical students he helped train.

Mr Romanes, who died on April 9 aged 97, was laid to rest in a ceremony at a packed Courthill Chapel in Kishorn, where he made his home after retiring 30 years ago.

Born in Edinburgh in 1916, Mr Romanes attended Edinburgh Academy before studying at the universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge and completing a PhD in anatomy.

He was appointed lecturer at Edinburgh University in 1946, and held the position of chair of anatomy for 30 years from 1954 to 1984.

In that time, he had a huge impact on the department, including the buildings themselves. He restructured the teaching and office space, and overhauled the Anatomical Museum to accommodate the UK’s first electron microscopes, leading to significant discoveries in later years.

Mr Romanes’ own research attracted considerable attention, particularly his papers on the arrangement of the nervous system in the spine, and the functioning of motor neurones in the limbs.

In 1959, he was appointed chairman of the board of management at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, an office he held for 15 years, and in 1971, he was rewarded for his service with an OBE.

Mr Romanes was Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Edinburgh University from 1979 to 1983, at a time when budget cuts started to bite. His colleagues credit him with protecting medicine as much as possible, as well as the independence of the university schools of medicine in the face of pressure from health departments.

Despite his considerable work commitments, Mr Romanes also sat on the editorial board of the Journal of Anatomy for 21 years, and edited two prominent anatomy textbooks.

His contribution to the field of anatomy was recognised by his election to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1955, and to the Aesculapian Society of Edinburgh in 1962. He also received an honorary degree from the University of Glasgow in 1983.

On retiring, Mr Romanes left nearly all of his administrative posts, but he was never idle. He poured his efforts into the family’s summer cottage on the edge of Loch Kishorn. Even into his 90s, Romanes could be found tending to his plot of land, despite its 30 degree slope.

At his funeral, one of Mr Romanes’ grandchildren recalled how he would reply to even the shortest e-mail with several lines of carefully composed text.

Mr Romanes, whose wife Muriel Grace Adam died in 1992, is survived by his four daughters and five grandchildren.