Baron Soulsby of Swaffham Prior (23 June 1926 – 08 May 2017)

17 May 2017

On Monday 8 May 2017, Lawson Soulsby died peacefully at his home in Swaffham Prior with his daughter, Katrina, at his side. 

Small of stature but a towering figure in global health, in veterinary and medical science, and in the veterinary profession, Lawson Soulsby was an enormously successful academic scientist and leader. He was widely loved and genuinely respected by all who came into contact with him. His achievements, especially in inspiring colleagues to view animal and human medicine as one health-related tapestry, have had a profound impact on global health and one medicine. Yet his humble beginnings endowed him with a respect for all, no matter the esteemed level he achieved in society.

During his career, he transformed the science of parasitology in at least two major academic departments – in Cambridge and Pennsylvania - and was regularly called upon to advise governments and academic bodies throughout the world including in Africa, Australia, Grenada, Mexico, Sri Lanka and the USA, as well as international bodies such as WHO, FAO, OIE and the UN. A Fellow of RSTMH from 1955, we are all greatly saddened by this news, and aware of the great loss that will be felt across many global health networks.

He was created a Life Peer in 1990 and worked actively in Parliament for over 25 years using his considerable intellect, his extensive knowledge and his warm personality to influence government policy at the highest level. In 1998, he chaired the House of Lords Science & Technology Committee reporting on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) which anticipated the seriousness of this issue which we all now recognise. He went on to assist the WHO in developing the first global action plan on AMR in 2001 – due to be launched in Washington DC on 11 September but delayed by ‘other events’.

He often referred to a sabbatical year in Australia in 1958 as the catalyst that triggered his passion for research. Following his wife’s death in 2014, he determined to create a way to offer a similar experience to young veterinary and medical colleagues through travelling fellowships. With the support of family and friends, he established the Soulsby Foundation in 2016 to combine his desire to inspire younger colleagues with his passion to promote the concept of “One World-One Health”. The Foundation has thus become his lasting legacy, working in close association with other like-minded organisations including the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM), Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and RSTMH.

In September 2016, RSTMH honoured him by hosting the First Soulsby Lecture, presented in Cambridge by Professor the Lord Trees. He would be very proud to learn that the Second Soulsby Lecture will be presented in September 2017 by Professor David Heymann CBE at the RSTMH Annual Meeting in London.

Lawson will be remembered by his many students around the world as an inspiring lecturer and mentor, treating each student as a unique individual. His pivotal text on parasitology “Helminths, Arthropods and Protozoa” earned him the affectionate title ‘Lord of the Worms’. In my family, he will be remembered simply as Lordy Lawson, an inspirational advocate and wonderful godfather to my daughter, Sophie.

The funeral service will take place at St Mary’s Church, Swaffham Prior on 24 May at 2.00 pm. The family has requested no flowers but invites donations to the Soulsby Foundation.