Obituary: Professor Sir James Armour, distinguished veterinary scientist

Professor Sir James Armour CBE, PhD, Dr(h.c)(Utrecht), DVM&S(h.c.), FRSE, FMedSci, HonFBiol, Dr(h.c.)(Glasgow), Dr(h.c.)(Stirling), HonFRCVS, veterinary scientist. Born: 17 September 1929 in Basra, Iraq. Died: 31 October 2021 aged 92

Scientist Sir James Armour was also a talented golfer
Scientist Sir James Armour was also a talented golfer

James (Jimmy) Armour was born in Basra, Iraq in 1929 where his Scottish father worked in the shipping industry. He came home to Scotland in 1935 in a hasty exit due to a military coup in Iraq and his love affair with Troon and the West of Scotland began.

He attended Marr College in Troon from 1940-45 and excelled both in the examinations hall and on the golf course. On leaving Marr in 1945 he worked on a farm for a year before going to Glasgow Veterinary School to study veterinary medicine.

After qualifying as a vet he married Irene and then whisked her off to Nigeria. They subsequently had four children, Linda, Donald, Fiona and Craig. Jimmy spent six years in Nigeria, initially as a Field Officer in the British Colonial Vet Service and then as a veterinary parasitologist at the Federal Laboratories in Vom. In 1960 he returned to the UK to work as a parasitologist at Coopers – later Wellcome – at Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire.

In 1963 he headed north to Glasgow and back to the University of Glasgow Veterinary School and joined the strong group of scientists who had developed the cattle lungworm vaccine Dictol in 1959. With Jimmy’s drive and ability, the parasitologists at Glasgow rapidly developed to became the largest group in Europe, and possibly worldwide. Jimmy rose rapidly from lecturer, to senior lecturer, to reader and was promoted to Professor of Veterinary Parasitology in 1976.

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In Glasgow he helped to form multidisciplinary teams, including parasitologists, immunologists, pathologists and clinicians. These teams determined the pathogenic mechanisms of parasitic infections – mostly notably gastrointestinal helminths in ruminants – and developed new methods of diagnosis and treatment.

In key collaborations with computing scientists Jimmy developed mathematical models for studying the epidemiology of helminth infections. He also foresaw the importance that molecular techniques would play in the future of parasitology and he led the establishment of the Wellcome Unit for Molecular Parasitology at Glasgow Vet School.

Not only was Jimmy an outstanding veterinary scientist, he was also a gifted teacher and many generations of students will remember his inspiring lectures and amazing memory for students’ names.

Always the scientist educator, Jimmy was keen to see information in the hands of those who would make the greatest impact. To this end, in 1979 he was pivotal in establishing In Practice and served as the first editorial board chairman of the journal, which was focused on continuing postgraduate education of the profession.

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He published extensively, co-authored a textbook on veterinary parasitology, lectured and travelled widely as an external examiner for undergrads and postgrads. There were trips to universities in Africa, Australia and South America, as well as Europe and the UK, and many successful research collaborations were established.

One of his key collaborations was with colleagues at Merck Sharp & Dome and the development of Ivermectin. This broad spectrum parasiticide was an outstanding success in a range of species and became the first animal health pharmaceutical to reach $1 billion in sales.

In 1986 he was elected Dean of Glasgow Vet School by the staff. The late Eighties was a time of considerable austerity in Higher Education and in 1988 when the Riley Committee was charged with examining the future of veterinary education, it recommended the closure of Glasgow and Cambridge veterinary schools.

This threat stimulated an enormous reaction and Jimmy led a highly organised campaign with tremendous energy and commitment.

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More than 700,000 signatures were collected and delivered to Downing Street and there was support from the RCVS, politicians across the political spectrum, the Scottish media and friends of Glasgow Vet School across the world.

The recommendations of the Riley Report were overturned by the Page Report on Veterinary Education and the School was saved. This victory was followed by a period of considerable expansion at Glasgow Vet School and Jimmy was awarded a CBE.

In 1991 Jimmy was appointed Vice Principal of the University with responsibility for Planning and External Relations. He was a key member of the Senior Management Team and played a major role in the University’s development. He retired from the University in 1995.

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Jimmy held many key external appointments. One was chairing with distinction the Veterinary Products Committee from 1987 to 1996. He was also Chair of the Board of the Moredun Animal Disease Research Institute in Edinburgh (2000-2004) where Princess Anne is the royal patron.

Jimmy played a key leadership role at Moredun during a financially challenging time. He helped to set the Institute on a clear pathway combining scientific excellence with practical outputs for animal health.

He was a member of the Hannah Dairy Research Institute Board for 14 years where he provided his usual considered and wise counsel, only stepping down in 2020.

Jimmy maintained links with Africa from 1995 to 2010 through his chairing of the St Andrew's Clinics for Children, a charity established by staff at Glasgow University in 1992 which raises funds for the provision of free healthcare for children in sub-Saharan Africa.

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He was elected to The Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1991 and served as Vice President from 1997 to 2000 and was awarded the RSE Bicentenary Medal in 2001 for his outstanding service as Vice-President.

Jimmy received many awards and distinctions but the highlight was his Knighthood, awarded in 1995 for services to Veterinary Science and Education.

Jimmy’s outstanding golfing career ran in parallel with his academic career. In 1947 he won the British Boys Championship at Hoylake, prevailing in some tight matches against opponents who subsequently became professionals.

From 1947-52 he represented Ayrshire and in 1950 qualified for the British Open at Troon. In 1952 he was Ayrshire champion and captain of the University Golf Team who were Scottish Champions.

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Jimmy was Club Champion at four different clubs. Troon Portland 1955, Berkhamstead 1960/61/62/63, Moor Park 1963 and Royal Troon in 1969. In 1960-63 he represented Hertfordshire and in 1962/63 was Captain of the Hertfordshire team which won the English Counties Championship.

He joined Royal Troon golf club in 1949 and was captain from 1990-92 and Honorary President from 2007-10.

Golf was in Jimmy’s blood and he cherished his golfing group at Troon, with whom he still played regularly in his late eighties.

He also loved rugby and football and even in his later years regularly attended Marr Rugby Club matches. He was a lifelong fan of Glasgow Rangers and held a season ticket until his health failed.

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Jimmy had an intense love of Troon, Ayrshire and the West of Scotland.

He was also passionate about education as the route to improving society and greatly enjoyed interacting with students. He mentored numerous postgraduates and kept in close touch with his former students and colleagues. It kept him young. He was also a great raconteur, with an amazing memory for stories.

Jimmy had high principles. He detested dishonesty, the truth mattered. He was a stickler for protocol, politeness and doing things properly. He was diplomatic and would try to avoid confrontation, preferring to have a quiet word to sort out an issue.

He had a humble and egalitarian outlook, he treated people equally and expected no favours. Even Princess Anne called him Jimmy. We will miss him.

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Irene died in 1988 and Jimmy wed Christine in 1992. She survives him, along with his children, Linda, Fiona and Craig.

PREPARED BY HIS FORMER COLLEAGUES

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