Obituaries: Prof Morley Sewell, former Dean of Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Medicine

Prof Sewell masterminded the building of a state of the art Hospital for Small Animals

Professor Morley Sewell had a successful career in veterinary medicine research and teaching. He played key roles in the development of the Center for Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Edinburgh and was Dean of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Medicine.

Morley enjoyed travel and had a passion for walking in the Lothians and Borders. He climbed his first Munro (Ben Vorlich) in his eightieth year. Modesty was one of his key characteristics; he always sought to share the credit for his success with his colleagues, and to acknowledge the consistent love and support of his family, not least his wife Cynthia, who endured long periods of separation while Morley was travelling, particularly during the early stages of his academic career.

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Morley was born in Sheffield in 1932, the only child of Major John Sewell, a pharmaceutical chemist, and Edith Mary (nee Hodkin), who introduced him to his love of animals and took him horse-riding throughout the north Derbyshire countryside.

He was educated at the King Edward VII School, Sheffield, where he excelled in athletics. Noting that a Veterinary Medicine degree was about to commence in Cambridge University, and that a school certificate in Latin was required for admission, he went to speak with the Latin Master, who gave him a Latin Tutor book and told him to teach himself – which hey did

Morley graduated from Trinity Hall Cambridge with an MA, VetMB in 1957 and, in the same year, married Cynthia (nee Hanson), whom he had met through weekly dances he arranged as chairman of the Cambridge branch of the World University Service.

Two years after graduation, while working on a PhD in helminthology – the study of parasitic worms – he responded to a call for veterinary parasitologists to work in Africa. Having secured a Colonial Office scholarship, Morley left the UK for Nigeria, with Cynthia and their year-old daughter, Mary. He completed two tours with the Federal Veterinary Department in Vom, Northern Nigeria, between 1960 and 1963, gaining his PhD in 1961. During the first tour, two more daughters, Ruth and Rebecca were born.

In 1963, Morley saw an advertisement in The Veterinary Record seeking a “veterinary helminthologist with tropical experience” to join Professor Alexander Robertson’s new Tropical Unit at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh. He applied for the position, thereby setting in motion a series of events that would eventually lead to his appointment as Dean, some 31 years later. The following year, a son, Paul, was born.

Morley joined the Dick Vet at an exciting time, particularly for tropical veterinary medicine. The Center for Tropical Veterinary Medicine (CTVM) was officially opened in 1970 and soon developed a strong reputation for its programs of education and research. Initially, there were just 15 students on a single Diploma of Veterinary Medicine, and 21 research students. During its lifetime, the CTVM taught over two thousand postgraduate students, from around 110 different countries.

In 1989, following the death of Professor Sir Alexander Robertson, the first Director, Morley achieved his long-held ambition by becoming Director of the CTVM, then, shortly after, Associate Dean of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. He described these four years as particularly fulfilling, bettered only by the following three years as Dean, which he found simultaneously both demanding and rewarding.

During his time as Director, the Center was appointed as an FAO Collaborating Center on Veterinary Diagnosis and took over management responsibility for all ODA-funded projects, including those at other British universities and research institutes.

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The Center continued to develop its enviable reputation for postgraduate veterinary education, designed to prepare graduates for a career in facilitating the development of tropical and sub-tropical agriculture. These programs were supported and informed by an active research program directed at the control, treatment or alleviation of major diseases or causes of dysfunction in tropical livestock. Through both the teaching and research, the Center made a significant contribution to improving the lot of both people and domestic animals in the rural areas of developing countries.

In 1991 it became a target for animal rights activists who lit three fires within the Centre. Had the fires not been detected and promptly extinguished, the building could have been completely destroyed. As it was, many of the administrative records and a large amount of teaching material were lost. As Director, Morley oversaw the response to the attack, and ensured that all essential administrative and research functions were maintained, and teaching resumed the following day.

He was promoted to a Personal Chair in Tropical Veterinary Medicine in 1992 and, in 1994, replaced Professor Richard Halliwell as Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science. During his term of office, he campaigned for, and secured approval for construction of a new state of the art Hospital for Small Animals that opened in 1999 and became the Dick Vet’s main small animal clinical facility, offering both first opinion services and a range of advanced specialist services.

Morley edited two journals – Veterinary Research Communications, and Tropical Animal Health and Production Scientific achievements – and was co-editor of The Handbook on Animal Diseases in the Tropics.

Morley’s Christian faith has been an important theme throughout his life. It was instrumental in bringing him and Cynthia together and has been the bedrock of their relationship throughout the years. Morley qualified as a Methodist Local Preacher in 1958. He managed to find many practical ways to channel his faith for the good of others. These included raising funds for students caught up in the Soviet oppression in Hungary in the 1950s, as Director of the Square Center Charity in Edinburgh, serving as the Scottish Representative for Mission Aviation Fellowship, and taking aid to Kosovo and Romania.

Morley remained positive and active during the lengthy lockdown, ensuring he and Cynthia had their full hour of walking every day. Despite being triple vaccinated, he caught Covid in mid-February and died suddenly while in hospital.

He is survived by Cynthia, his four children, thirteen grandchildren and thirteen great grandchildren.

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