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Bede Morris (1927–1988)

The first Annual Report of the John Curtin School of Medical Research from its new building recorded:

'An operation has been devised for long-term collection of lymph from the mammary gland of sheep (Morris). This will permit projected studies of fat transport in the mammary gland during lactation.'

Bede Morris, who devised this operation, had taken up his appointment as senior fellow in the JCSMR on 1 September that year, 1958, bringing with him vitality, energy, exuberance and ideas which were outstanding in any company. He had just gained his D.Phil in Oxford, where he had earned rarely accorded respect and friendship from Sir Howard (later Lord) Florey while working at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. He joined F. C. Courtice's Department of Experimental Pathology in the early days of the blossoming John Curtin School, continuing their association which had begun when a brash, recently graduated University Medallist in Veterinary Science from Sydney University started in medical research at the Kanematsu Institute in Sydney Hospital. The distinguished career that followed came to an end tragically on 2 July in a motor accident near Paris.

He had established a reputation as a talented experimentalist for his work on lipid metabolism before he came to the ANU, based on an appreciation that some complex physiological processes must be studied in the intact normal animal. He had collected and analysed lymph from cats and rats in Sydney and Oxford. In Canberra he decided to use sheep as his model experimental animals, and this suited his aggressively loyal Australian sentiments. A whole new range of possibilities for studying physiological processes in the live animal resulted. Bede quickly built up a team of devoted colleagues and scholars, and his fame grew rapidly as a lymphatic physiologist and subsequently as an immunologist of enormous originality and vitality. He first looked at the cells in sheep lymph one evening in 1961, and from then on the direction of his interests moved towards the role of the lymphoid apparatus of the sheep in the immune response. Reproductive and developmental immunology and the use of cattle as well as sheep followed. He loved to do an experiment and he always did it painstakingly with the critical eye of a perfectionist. While recent years saw him less at the bench, he was often in the operating theatre and in the Animal House, where his surgical skill, combined with a special indefinable affinity for the animal and the experiment could make the impossible work and a disaster become a triumph.

Bede Morris was promoted to a Professorial Fellowship in 1963, elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1969, and as the Foundation Professor of Immunology he established the Department of Immunology in 1970. He contributed enormously and generously to his Department, his School, his Institute, his University, the Academy and to managing and popularising science in Australia. He was a founding father of the JCSMR Faculty, and of the Centre of Resource and Environmental Studies. Bede Morris's contributions extended well beyond the limits of his own discipline, and in more recent times he became increasingly concerned with philosophical and ethical issues. He was an entertaining raconteur of great skill, and he became highly sought after for lectures and after-dinner speeches which brought the implications of his science to the public.

There is so much more that could be said about this man of so many parts, the sage, the aestheticist, the recipient of international awards, the gardener, the farmer, the veterinarian, the oenophile with knowledge and palate and cellar envied by all, but always and perhaps most important was the family man. Bede constantly praised his good fortune in having married Margaret and fathered Simon, Sally, Jennifer, Scott and Danielle. He was overjoyed with the arrival of his first three grandchildren, Benjamin, Stephanie and Hannah. We who were privileged to enjoy the camaraderie of working long hours with him, and to participate in his thrill when seeing effort rewarded, appreciate and share their terrible loss and extend to them our deepest sympathy.

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'Morris, Bede (1927–1988)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 May 2024.

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