Obituary: Professor J Gerald Collee, 84

Professor Gerald Collee
Professor Gerald Collee
Have your say

A DISTINGUISHED microbiologist whose expertise was in high demand during the BSE crisis of the 1990s has died.

Professor J Gerald Collee, who was originally from Bo’ness, passed away on September 10 at the age of 84.

His work as a microbiologist to help protect the public from the potentially devastating transmission of BSE to humans was highly regarded.

Prof Colle chaired a working group to safeguard medicines from infected bovine material and gave evidence to the independent inquiry into Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) following the crisis over the epidemic of “mad cow disease”.

His long career included two decades as a professor of bacteriology at Edinburgh University, where he headed the department of medical microbiology, and many years as consultant bacteriologist to Lothian Health Board and as microbiology consultant adviser to the Scottish Home and Health Department.

The son of a dentist, he was born in Bo’ness and educated at Bo’ness and the Edinburgh Academies before studying medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1951.

He lectured in bacteriology at Edinburgh University Medical School from 1955, furthering his own studies to graduate MD and win the gold medal in 1962. He was appointed professor at Edinburgh in 1974.

In the late 1980s, as alarm over BSE intensified, the government grappled to assess and control the disease’s impact and he was asked to chair the Committee on the Safety of Medicines (CSM) BSE working group.

For his work he was awarded an CBE in the 1991 New Year Honours list, and he retired later that year.

Already a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, in 1993 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

An accomplished writer, in retirement he enjoyed writing poetry and had a number of anthologies of poems and verses published. He also played fiddle with a folk band at a local hotel in Aberfeldy where he had a cottage. During his academic career he taught all three of his children, all of whom qualified in medicine at Edinburgh.

Daughter Carol is a GP in Australia and son George is an anaesthetist at the Royal Free Hospital in London – a third son, John, inherited his father’s passion for words and is a writer and screenwriter whose credits include Creation, the story of Darwin’s life, and the Oscar-winning animated film Happy Feet.

Professor Collee, who was divorced from his first wife Isobel and widowed by his second wife Professor Anne Ferguson, is survived by his close companion Doreen Martin, his brother Ian and sister Moira, three children and eight grandchildren.

A service celebrating his life will be held at Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church at 11am on Wednesday.