In Memoriam: Emeritus Dean and Professor in Tropical Medicine Herbert Michael Gilles (1921 – 2015)

Press release 21 Oct 2015
Professor Herbert Gilles at the Wellcome Witness Seminar on ‘British Contributions to Medical Research and Education In Africa after the Second World War’ courtesy of History of Modern Biomedicine Research Group. Photo credit: Wellcome Library, London

It is with great sadness that LSTM wishes to announce the passing of its Vice-President, former Dean and Professor in Tropical Medicine Herbert Michael Gilles CMG UOM KCSJ MSc DSc MD FRCP FFPH DMedSc.

In a first reaction the Director of LSTM, Professor Janet Hemingway, said ‘Professor Gilles has been an extra-ordinary tropical medical physician, and a great friend and long-standing colleague to many of us. We will miss his wit, his endearing enthusiasm and his ability to engage students and staff at all levels.’

LSTM’s longest serving Vice-President and former Dean, Professor Herbert Gilles was an exceptional figure in the world of tropical medicine. In 1949, Professor Gilles was House Physician on the Tropical Ward of the Liverpool Royal Infirmary, while studying for the Diploma in Tropical Medicine at LSTM. During this time he struck up a friendship that would influence LSTM and the course of tropical medicine as well as his own career.

As he explained at the time, “I was approached by the Dean of LSTM, Professor Maegraith, to take up the position of Lecturer at Large, which I readily accepted and which lasted from 1960 to 1965.” The role took him to Nigeria, where he formed a department of preventative medicine at Ibadan University.

In Nigeria, Professor Gilles became the mentor of Professor Adetokunbo Lucas, emeritus WHO Director for Tropical Disease Research. ‘I lost my close friend and adviser’, said Professor Lucas. ‘From 1962 onwards Professor Gilles was my mentor in redesigning public health teaching at the University of Ibadan. This is sad news indeed’

Returning to LSTM in 1965, he was offered a Senior Lecturer position by Professor Maegraith, before taking the Warrington Yorke Chair in Tropical Medicine.

Professor Gilles retired in 1986, having spent the previous five years as Dean of LSTM. His colleague, friend and former Director of LSTM, Emeritus Professor David Molyneux said in response to Professor Gilles death that ‘I was privileged to have been able to count on Herbert Gilles as a colleague and friend for so many years in the School. He was one of the most celebrated tropical physicians of his generation and throughout his life was committed to Liverpool. Always approachable, gentle and modest he offered the wisest of counsels. He was deeply respected throughout the world and the Schools greatest ambassador, his expertise was without peer. He will be greatly missed but he leaves an enduring legacy. Our sincere condolences to his beloved family.’

Professor Gilles continued to teach in Ireland, Italy and Malta and helping postgraduates who are seeking further training overseas. He was awarded the CMG for his outstanding work overseas in 2005 and in 2008 he was appointed Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant by the King of Thailand for his involvement with the faculty of Tropical Medicine at Mahidol University in Bangkok.

Professor Herbert Gilles has contributed significantly in his field, publishing over 150 papers in scientific journals besides writing a number of books, including ‘A Short Textbook of Public Health Medicine for the Tropics’, co-written with Professor Lucas and first published in 1973, still used today by medical students with the 5th edition in preparation.

Since his retirement he remained involved with LSTM as vice-President and had a keen interest in the FEPOW project. In 1994 he was recipient of LSTM’s highest award, the Mary Kingsley Medal.

Herbert Michael Gilles was 94 years.