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Professor Bill Bowman

Academic who made University of Strathclyde a world centre for pharmacology;

Born: April 26, 1930; Died: July 18, 2013.

Professor Bill Bowman, who has died aged 83, was a distinguished academic who made the University of Strathclyde a world centre for pharmacology. The world of pharmacology has lost one of its luminaries.

He obtained his first class honours degree in pharmacy from the London School of Pharmacy, now part of University College London. He was inspired there by the formidable Eleanor Zaimis, who invited him to join her group to work for a PhD. His work on the effect of adrenaline was later to have a significant impact on the development of anaesthesia.

He spent two years in national service with the RAF during the time between submitting his PhD thesis and it being examined. The RAF was the source of numerous, some unrepeat­able, anecdotes with which he regaled friends and colleagues throughout his career. The RAF decided he should become an education officer and sent him on a teacher training course, following which he was required to teach aerodynamics. He attended his PhD examination in Oxford in full RAF uniform.

He returned to his alma mater as a lecturer under the mentorship of Gladwyn Buttle. By that time he had married his first wife, Kate. They had two children, Alison and Ewen.

He collaborated with many of the great figures of the period, producing lasting contributions to the discipline. With Mike Rand and Geoff West, he wrote a textbook aimed primarily at pharmacy students. The second edition in 1980, with only Mike Rand s co-author, became the standard textbook of pharmacology worldwide and was translated into many languages. It was generally referred to as Bowman and Rand except in Portugal where, to Bill's mischievous delight, its authors were described as Rand Y Bowman.

Sadly, although well-advanced, the third edition never materialised, due to a fire in 1990 that destroyed Mike Rand's house along with extensive drafts of the book, and Mr Rand's death in 2002, after which Prof Bowman lost the will to work further on this enormous task.

Prof Bowman established the department of pharmacology at the University of Strathclyde in 1966 – the university had been given its royal charter two years earlier. He placed Strathclyde firmly on the world's pharmacological map. His presence at Strathclyde attracted top people to join the department, notably Jim Parratt, whom he invited to take up an appointment in 1967, after which the department grew rapidly.

At Strathclyde, Prof Bowman revisited his earlier work on the effects of adrenaline on skeletal muscle with colleagues Mike Nott and Ian Rodger, as well as developing a lasting interest in muscle relaxant drugs. This was stimulated by the close proximity of Organon laboratories which, at the time of the Professor's arrival, was developing the drug pancuronium, used to paralyse muscles during surgery, thus making for much safer anaesthesia.

The fruitful collaboration with Ian Marshall and Organon led to the identification, development and subsequent marketing of vecuronium and rocuronium, now two of the most extensively used muscle relaxants in anaesthetic practice. Prof Bowman was made an honorary fellow of the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal College of Surgeons, and was appointed visiting professor of anaesthesiology in various universities in Canada and the US. His other related interests at in collaboration with Ian Marshall and Alan Harvey focused on reversal agents for muscle relaxants and their potential application in conditions of impaired neuroeffector transmission.

Prof Bowman's long friendship and collaboration with Mike Rand, and Mr Rand's return to Australia in 1965, resulted in so many Australian visitors and PhD students in the Strathclyde department, that the professor's research laboratory became known as Kangaroo Valley. One frequent Australian visitor to the department, and one cause of Prof Bowma's trips to Melbourne (the excuse being the textbook) was Anne Stafford, also a distinguished pharmacologist, whom he married in the early 1970s; Anne died in 2007 after a long illness.

Prof Bowman became successively deputy principal and vice-principal at Strathclyde, removing him from active involvement in pharmacology research. He described his role as drinking gin and tonic on behalf of the university. Despite this laid-back approach, he was an outstanding vice principal, playing a key role in steering the university through difficult times.

He retained close contact with pharmacology through his involvement with the British Pharmacological Society, in which he held a number of executive posts, and the International Union of Pharmacology (IUPHAR), which he served as Secretary General from 1994-1998, becoming the first editor-in-chief of Pharmacology International. The British Pharmacological Society recognised his contribution to the society and discipline by electing him as an honorary fellow and establishing the Bill Bowman Travelling Lectureship, awarded annually to support the development of a young pharmacologist, a matter that was always close to Prof Bowman's heart. On his retirement, the university perpetuated his name by establishing the WC Bowman Chair of Pharmacology.

Prof Bowman's health had deteriorated since a stroke in London a couple of years ago. After a lengthy stay in hospitals in London and Dumfries, he returned home to Rockcliffe on the Solway Firth where he died peacefully as the sun set over Rough Island.

We have lost an inspirational teacher, a brilliant lecturer, a walking encyclopaedia of pharmacology and a mentor to numerous pharmacologists around the globe.

He is survived by his children Alison and Ewen, from his first marriage, and grandchildren Cammie, Ewan, Emma and Keith.

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