John Boyd Orr

John Boyd Orr was born at Kilmaurs, Ayrshire on 23 September 1880, the son of a quarrymaster and attended Kilmarnock Academy. His upbringing was set against the religious background of the Covenanters and the Free Church of Scotland, and it had been intended that he would train for the ministry, to which two of his brothers were ordained. To this end he was educated at the University of Glasgow, enrolling for the degree of MA, but during the course of his studies he came under the influence of Darwinism, and abandoned his intentions of entering the ministry.

On graduation he entered the teaching profession, where he stayed for four years, before returning to the University of Glasgow to study for a medical degree. He went on to take his MD, being awarded the Medical Faculty's highest award for his thesis. He was then invited by Sir William McEwen, the eminent surgeon, to become his assistant. However, his attempt to follow a medical career was overshadowed by his distress at the plight of the slum children whom he saw in the wards of the Glasgow hospitals. He felt particularly helpless in the face of disease and malnutrition, which resulted in rickets and other disabilities, and he resolved to try to find some means of ridding the population of this scourge. 

To this end he again returned to the University of Glasgow to carry out research on metabolic disease, for which he gained his DSc. He served with the Royal Army Medical Corps in World War I until 1917, and then as a temporary surgeon with the Royal Navy. 

In 1915 he married Elizabeth Pearson and they had two daughters and one son. Their elder daughter, Judy, was a doctor whilst their other daughter, Minty, was a sculptress whose work was exhibited in Paris. Their son was unfortunately killed in action. 

After the war, John Boyd Orr went to Aberdeen, where he set about developing the Rowett Institute as a world-renowned research centre in the field of animal nutrition. He later became Director of the Imperial Bureau of Animal Nutrition. One of his principle research projects was in the scientific relationship between balanced diet and good health. He held appointments to a number of public bodies, was Professor of Agriculture at the University of Aberdeen from 1942-45, and Independent MP for the Scottish Universities from 1945-48. In 1945 he was appointed Director General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, holding this post until 1948. 

He was honoured by the University of Glasgow by being elected Lord Rector by the students in 1945, and Chancellor of the University by the graduates in 1946. He served until 1971. His work gained him several major honours including the award for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1949; Commander of the Legion d'Honneur; and Commander and Cross with Star, Polonia Restituta. 

He was knighted in 1935; created Baron Boyd Orr of Brechin Mearns in 1949; and made a Companion of Honour in 1968. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1932, and was awarded Honorary Degrees by the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh. 

Following a long illness, Lord Boyd Orr died at his home at Newton of Strathcathro, near Edzell, Angus on 25 June 1971, at the age of 90. He was cremated at Aberdeen on 28 June 1971. 

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