Obituary: Tony Harmar, 62

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OUTSPOKEN academic Tony Harmar, emeritus professor of pharmacology at Edinburgh University, has died at the age of 62.

He was awarded a personal chair in pharmacology in 2006 and was head of the university’s School of Biomedical Sciences from 2005-8.

Born in London, the son of Paul and Mary, he attended St Paul’s School before going on to study biochemistry at Cambridge University.

He completed his PhD in the MRC Neurochemical Pharmacology Unit under Les Iversen, focusing on the function of a substance called octopamine on the brains of animals.

He carried out his postdoctoral research at the Friedrich Miescher-Institut in Basle, Switzerland.

Professor Harmar joined the staff of the MRC Brain Metabolism Unit in Edinburgh in 1981 where his painstaking research into molecular biology famously exhausted the Capital’s supplies of cocktail sticks.

One of his main research interests was the control of “circadian rhythms”, a body clock that dictates moods, metabolism and behaviour.

The aim of his research was to get a better understanding of how these rhythms affect common human diseases, including arthritis, asthma, cardiovascular disease and cancer so that medication could be developed to cut the risks. He had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1996 and was heavily involved with the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology.

When the MRC Brain Metabolism closed, he transferred to Edinburgh University’s Division of Neuroscience at George Square in 2001.

His great interest outside work was music. He was an accomplished pianist and sang in choirs, initially the Edinburgh Singers’ Choir where he met his wife, Jillian.

He also sang with Cadenza, which he founded in 1992. It grew from a small chamber choir to become one of Scotland’s most exciting amateur mixed voice choirs. Latterly, he sang in the Edinburgh University Renaissance Singers.

He was highly critical of Bush and Blair’s administration, including their controversial decision to 
invade Iraq.

He was also vocal in his opposition to religious fundamentalism, the misuse of disabled seats on buses and the direction taken by the Labour of which he strongly disapproved.

Prof Harmar, who grew up in the socialist heyday of the 1960s, came to believe that the party had lost sight of its radical roots and that the UK seemed to be increasingly governed by conservative forces.

He was diagnosed with a brain tumour in November 2012 and dealt with his condition with courage and dignity.

He continuing working until January and was awarded an emeritus professorship shortly before his death.

He leaves behind wife Jillian and two sons, Thomas and William.