George Malcolm Brown was born in Campbellford, Ontario, Canada, the second son of the Revd Dr George Andrew Brown and his wife, Elizabeth Stewart. The family shortly thereafter settled in Kingston, Ontario, where George Brown was called to the ministry of Chalmers Presbyterian Church, a charge he held for 25 years until his retirement in 1950.
After matriculating from Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute with high first class honours at the unusually early age of 16, Malcolm Brown entered medical school at Queen’s University in Kingston. He received numerous honours and prizes throughout his medical course. His outstanding abilities were recognized by the award of a Rhodes Scholarship, which he held at Balliol College, Oxford, from 1938 to 1940. Here he studied experimental hypertension under BG Maegraith and, later, Sir Howard Florey. In 1940, he obtained the degree of D Phil and then pursued the study of internal medicine at the Radcliffe Infirmary under LJ Witts, gaining the MRCP.
From August 1943 to August 1946, Brown served with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps in the United Kingdom, Italy and Northwest Europe, attaining the rank of major. For two years of this period he was seconded to the RAMC to serve as physiologist with the malaria research unit.
In 1946, he joined the department of medicine at Queen’s University, Kingston, as associate professor. In addition to his clinical and teaching duties, he organized and, for several years, led the Queen’s University Arctic Expedition, to study the Canadian Eskimo. Early papers by Malcolm Brown and his colleagues, arising from his studies of man’s adaptation to cold, still find their place in comprehensive texts on the subject.
He was appointed full professor of medicine in 1951, and remained in the department until 1965, when he resigned to become the president of the Medical Research Council. During those years Brown’s contributions to Canadian medicine, both within and outside Queen’s University, were many and substantial. The possessor of a superb and logical mind, a lively, if often well-hidden, sense of humour, and an unlimited capacity for hard work, he set the very highest standards both for himself and for all those who worked with him.
Formidable in debate, he made many good causes appear the better because of his advocacy. He was an excellent general internist, but his particular interests lay in the fields of gastroenterology and haematology, in both of which he set the stage for the development of subspecialty practice at Queen’s. As a teacher, he gave an example of clarity and logic which will be remembered by a generation of undergraduate and graduate students. At the same time Brown pursued significant personal research, while working to create facilities and opportunities for research as new members were recruited to the department. He was elected to membership of the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 1955 and the American Clinical and Climatological Society in 1965.
Meanwhile, he was making his mark in other organizations. For some years a member of the council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the provincial licensing body, he served from 1956 to 1958 as its president. He was awarded his Fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians of Canada in 1946 and worked hard as an officer of that body, ultimately achieving its presidency from 1962 to 1964.
A Fellow and, ultimately, a Master of the American College of Physicians, he served as a member of its board of Regents from 1965 to 1972. In 1966, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the following year was named to the board of trustees of Queen’s University. The latter appointment, which continued until his death, gave him particular pleasure, for his father had served before him on the board; their combined and, in part, overlapping service spanned an unbroken period of 50 years.
He served as a member of the Science Council of Canada from 1966 to 1970, and at the time of his death was an associate member of the National Research Council of Canada, and a member of the council of trustees of the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
As president of the Medical Research Council, Malcolm Brown’s accomplishments were once again recognized across Canada and beyond. His dealings with the medical schools of Canada were always even-handed, and demonstrated his concern to see medical research developed strongly and equitably in all Canadian Health Sciences Centres. He set a standard of erudition and fairness that won the admiration of his colleagues, and he served Canadian biomedical science with distinction, wisdom and foresight. Under his leadership the Medical Research Council continued to develop as a prestigious organization with the highest standards. In 1976, Brown was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. His publications included some 70 papers in scientific journals in the fields of malaria research, cold physiology, haematology, and gastroenterology. Malcolm Brown married in 1950 Helen Louise Gatch, daughter of Gordon G Gatch of Toronto, by whom he had two daughters, Alison and Alexandra, and a son, Malcolm.
† The list of honorary degrees is too lengthy to include in entirety.
[Brit.med.J., 1977, 1, 131, 270; Lancet, 1977, 2, 274]