In Memoriam Professor Robert “Bob” Howells

News article 25 Oct 2022
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Professor Robert “Bob” Howells

The School is sad to announce that Professor Robert “Bob” Howells died in September. 

Bob Howells joined the School in 1967 from the Department of Pathology of the University of Liverpool. Bob came to Liverpool having completed his PhD in the Zoology Department of Cardiff University on Cestode (tapeworm) structure under Professor David Erasmus. Bob was appointed by Wallace Peters (Pete) who had just joined the School as Walter Myers Professor of Parasitology.

Bob was his first recruit into the Department as clearly Bob’s background in Parasitology and parasite ultrastructure fitted perfectly with Pete’s vision of detailing drug impact on malaria parasites. This became the major focus of the Department’s research in the late 1960’s in response to the emergence of chloroquine resistant malaria which was hampering the USA war effort in Vietnam.

Bob was Pete’s essential right hand person and focussed his early research on the impact of antimalarials on the rodent malaria models in the laboratory. This work established the School’s reputation as a leading player in malaria studies which has continued through the decades. Bob was instrumental in building strong links with the University Department of Pharmacology through recognising the need to integrate his malaria studies with pharmacologists. His relationship with Professor Sir Alasdair Breckenridge led to the appointment of Steve Ward, initially as a Wolfson Lecturer and later on as the Walter Myers Professor to support the pharmacology effort; Bob was great supporter of Steve’s early career, opening up many opportunities. Geoff Edwards became a “new blood” lecturer further strengthening the links between LSTM and Pharmacology.  This post was important also in assisting the work on the early development of ivermectin therapy for onchocerciasis with Herbert Gilles in the early 1980’s building strong links with Ghana.

Bob also gained significant experience and benefit from a two year secondment in the early 1970’s to Belo Horizonte, Brazil developing close contacts and collaborations which resulted in several exchanges and students coming to the School during the next decade.  Bob was appointed to a personal Chair during the tenure of George Nelson who replaced Peters in the Walter Myers Chair; on George Nelson’s retirement Bob was appointed to the Walter Myers Chair until he  moved to a prestigious and responsible post at the Wellcome Trust as Head of International Programmes in 1990 a position he held with distinction at a time when the Wellcome Trust was expanding its overseas programmes in South East Asia and East Africa.

As the huge research successes  in Kenya, Thailand and Vietnam demonstrate Bob has left an enduring legacy, always supporting and encouraging the best Science; he identified and encouraged younger students and several have had notable careers in other Institutions such as Eileen Devaney whose work in filariasis stemmed from Bob’s wider interest in all aspects of Parasitology. Bob Howells’ legacy in both Liverpool and at the Wellcome reflect his vision, his dedication to quality science and his support and encouragement of the many colleagues he worked with over the decades.

The School sends its deep condolences to his wife, Ann, and the family at this saddest of times.