Roy Douglas Wright, Professor Emeritus, Sir (1907-1990)
AK, MB, MS, DSc (A.N.U. & Melb), Hon. LLD (Melb. & A.N.U.), FRACP. Deputy Chancellor 10 April 1972–3 March 1980, Chancellor 3 March 1980–31 December 1989 (Professor of Physiology).
Roy Douglas Wright was born 7 August 1907 in Central Castra, Tasmania, the ninth of ten children to Emma (neé Lewis) and John Wright.
Wright was educated at Devonport High School from where he graduated with outstanding results and won numerous scholarships including the Education Department Scholarship, Science Scholarship, Sir Richard Dry Exhibition, a General Scholarship and the Gilchrist Watt Scholarship. In 1924 Wright completed first year of science at the University of Tasmania before entering the University of Melbourne in 1925 on a full scholarship to Queens College where he commenced a Bachelor of Medicine. So began a life-long association with the University of Melbourne which saw Roy Douglas Wright progress from an outstanding undergraduate student to becoming Professor in Physiology and a member of the University Council.
University of Melbourne: Student to Chancellor
Graduating in 1929 with a Bachelor of Medicine, Wright then worked as surgeon and pathologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where his interest in experimental science and research developed. In 1932 his Master of Surgery was conferred and Wright was appointed Steward Lecturer in Pathology (1932-1934). Subsequently he became Senior Lecturer in Pathology (1934–1938) and in 1937 was awarded the prestigious Syme Prize for Research.
After two years (1936–1938) research work in Oxford under the direction of Sir Howard Florey, Wright returned to Melbourne and was appointed Professor of Physiology (1939–1971). He served as Dean, Faculty of Medicine (1946–1947 & 1951–1952), Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Science (1945–1962) and Dean, Faculty of Science (1969). Wright was elected by Convocation to the University Council (1971–1990), assuming the office of Deputy Chancellor (1972–1980). In 1980, Wright was awarded a Degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) and became Chancellor (1980–1989). In 1983, for his service to education, learning and medicine, Wright was made a Knight in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AK).
Wright lobbied hard both to establish and develop medical research institutions, ensuring they were well funded and prestigious enough to attract, foster and retain Australia’s best research scientists. His legacy is seen in the world class institutions of the Peter MacCallum Clinic, the Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology & Medicine and the John Curtin School of Medical Research.
Cancer Institute Board - Peter MacCallum Clinic
Since 1943 Wright and Peter MacCallum had been actively advocating for the establishment of a specialist cancer hospital in Melbourne but had meet great opposition from the hospital establishment. Wright maintained a public campaign in the newspapers which ultimately brought enough pressure to bear on the then Victorian Minister for Health, Albert Dunstan, to announce the allocation of £500,000 to establish the Cancer Institute Board.
In 1948 the Cancer Institute Board was established by an Act of Parliament of the State of Victoria. Wright was a founding board member of the Cancer Institute (1949–1975), served as Chairman of Executive (1949–1971) and upon his retirement as Professor of Physiology from the University of Melbourne led the Institute as the Medical Director (1971–1975).
In 1950 an outpatient clinic was established and named in honour of Professor Peter MacCallum. In September 1977 the Douglas Wright Wing opened in recognition of his life-long commitment to research and cancer therapies. With lobbying from Wright the name was changed, in 1986, from the Cancer Institute Board to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute.
The Australian National University (ANU)
Wright was involved with Alfred Conlon in lobbying Sir Howard Florey during his 1944 visit to Australia to join what was to become the John Curtin School of Medical Research. Wright served as the Honorary Secretary (1946–1948) of the Interim Council of the ANU and subsequently was a foundation member of the Council (1946–1976). Wright was awarded a Doctor of Science (honoris causa) (1967) and for his ‘distinguished contribution to the service of society’ he was awarded a Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) (1977).
The Howard Florey Institute
Wright was instrumental in securing benefactions which enabled the foundation of the Howard Florey Laboratories of Experimental Physiology in 1963 which subsequently became The Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine.
Wright served on the executive board (1971–1990) and was engaged as a research consultant (1976–1990) where, until the day before his death, he was actively pursuing his research.
Within the University of Melbourne, Wright was involved in the creation of the new department of Physiology as well as the Optometry and Veterinary Schools.
Wright was widely admired for his strong beliefs in the academic mission of the University, the necessity of academic freedom, freedom of speech and in the idea of justice.
When carrying out duties of the chancellorship it is often remarked that he brought both gravity and an intensely sincere touch to conferment ceremonies where he took time to speak personally to all graduating students.
In 1931 Wright married Julia Bell with whom he had two children, Douglas and Julia. He died 28 February 1990, survived by his second wife Muriel (neé Wilmot, married 1964) and two children of his first marriage.
University of Melbourne
1925 – 1929 Undergraduate, Faculty of Medicine
1929 Graduate Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery with Exhibitions in Anatomy, Physiology and Surgery
1932 Appointed Steward Lecturer in Pathology, Master of Surgery conferred
1934 – 1938 Senior Lecturer in Pathology
1939 Awarded Syme Prize for Research
1939 – 1971 Professor of Physiology
1941 Degree of Doctor of Science conferred
1945 – 1962 Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Science
1946 – 1947 Dean, Faculty of Medicine
& 1951 – 1952
1963 – 1990 Member of Council
1969 Dean, Faculty of Science
1972 – 1980 Deputy Chancellor
1980 Degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) conferred
1980 – 1989 Chancellor, University of Melbourne
1983 Appointed Knight in the General Division of the Order of Australia for service to education, to learning and to medicine
University of Melbourne: Queen’s College
1925 Entered Queen’s College on full scholarship
1931 Resident Medical Tutor
1935 Non-resident Medical Tutor
1939 Elected Fellow of Queen’s College
1982 – 1990 President, Queen’s College Foundation
The Cancer Institute & The Peter MacCallum Clinic
1949 – 1975 Founding Board Member, Cancer Institute
1949 – 1971 Chairman of Executive, The Cancer Institute (The Peter MacCallum Clinic)
1971 – 1975 Medical Director, The Peter MacCallum Clinic
Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology & Medicine
1963 Central role in foundation of the Institute
1971 – 1990 Founding board member
1976 – 1990 Consultant, actively engaged in research
The Australian National University (ANU)
1945 A founder of the University
1946 – 1948 Honorary Secretary
1946 – 1976 Member of Council
1967 Degree of Doctor of Science conferred
1977 Degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) conferred
1930 – 1931 Resident Medical Officer, Royal Melbourne Hospital
1934 Assistant Surgeon, Austin Hospital
1935 – 1938 Surgeon to Outpatients, Royal Melbourne Hospital
1939 – 1971 Consulting Physiologist to the Royal Melbourne, St. Vincent’s and Austin Hospitals
Research in England
1936 – 1938 Research with Professor Howard Florey (later Lord Florey), Oxford University
1964 Commonwealth Fellow; Visiting Professor, St. Mary’s Hospital, University of London
World War II
1939 – 1945 Consultant to research units attached to Physiology Department, University of Melbourne. Member (with the rank of Colonel) Australian Army Research Directorate reporting to Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey; worked with the RAAF Physiology Research Unit, the Chemical Warfare Unit and member of the Prime Minister’s Morale Committee, advising on measures to support civilian morale in Australia.
Wright was involved in numerous professional associations including:
- Physiological Society (England)
- Physiological Society, Pathological Society
- Australian & New Zealand for the Advancement of Science
- Australian College of Education
- College of Pathologists
- Victorian Society for Pathology and Experimental Medicine (Founding Member)
The University of Melbourne Archives (UMA) holds the personal papers of Roy Douglas Wright which include correspondence, reports, research papers, manuscripts, speeches, organisation papers, meeting minutes, photographs, audio, appointment diaries, newspaper cuttings, certificates and ephemera.
In addition to the Wright collection there are the ‘Orr Case Papers’, which comprise 33 boxes of papers created by Prof R. D. Wright during his involvement with and representation of Sydney Sparkes Orr. A hard copy finding aid is available upon request.
The Ian Potter Museum of Art: Portrait of Emeritus Sir Douglas Wright by Wes Walters
Peter McPhee, Pansy: A life of Roy Douglas Wright, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1999.
Obituary: Sir Roy Douglas Wright,The Age, 2 March 1990.