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Illustrations on a blackboard

On the 12th September around 300 medics and their friends gathered in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre to listen to Professor John Kelly of Edinburgh University and Professor Tom Jessell of Columbia University celebrate the life of the late George Romanes.

George Romanes

Edinburgh born and bred, Professor George Romanes, 1944 MB ChB, was a highly innovative scientist who was Professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh from 1954 until 1984.

He was, however, better known as an inspirational lecturer, famed for his charismatic teaching to medical students and his coloured chalk blackboard illustrations and entertaining anecdotes, which left a lasting influenced on many generations of medical students.

Scientific discovery

John Kelly set the scene by stating that nearly everyone present, including George’s four daughters and their families knew of George’s reputation as a teacher, editor and administrator and the purpose of to-days gathering was to draw attention to George’s 70 year commitment to scientific discovery.

Tom Jessell paid tribute to George’s remarkable powers at age 95, by using videos illustrating his ability to recall his own intent and motivation and the detail of the experiments he had executed some 70 years earlier. The videos also showed George’s determination and his sense of mischief.

By way of background Tom outlined a number of George’s papers and the impact of his seminal work on his contemporaries and on present day movement related research. He then highlighted the parallels between George’s ideas and the current work of Jessell’s group in New York.

For further reading see: T. M. Jessell, G. Sürmeli & J. S. Kelly (2011) ‘Motor Neurons and the Sense of Place.’ Neuron 72,419-424.

Your memories

The event was also an opportunity to remember an influential teacher and a much missed member of the medical faculty.

We received a number of anecdotes from former students who were keen to share their thoughts and recollections.

I, together with countless other medical students, not only remember Prof Romanes with great affection but owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his inspirational teaching. His skill and artistry with a blackboard and a handful of coloured chalk brought the subject of anatomy to life and left an indelible memory on his students.

Dr Hamish R P Meldrum1972 MBChB, 1969 BSc

Prof Romanes was pretty much the first lecturer I remember seeing on day 1 of the medical course back in 1973 and was truly outstanding in what he did. We should have had an endless supply of fresh blackboards so that each completed anatomy drawing of his was slid off to one side and kept permanently rather than washed off for the next class. I’m quite sure every one of his many thousands of students would be pleased to have had one as a memento.

Dr Daniel Rutherford1979 MBChB, 1976 BSc

At the Medics Ball in the Assembly Rooms there was always a stage show. The opening song circa 1977 by a large choir took us all by surprise. To the tune of Handel's Hallelujah chorus the words "George Romanes, George Romanes, Prof of Profs, Dean of Deans" filled the hall, and a great cheer arose from all present. It was almost 40 years ago and I can still see it now. He was a fantastic teacher, greatly loved by all.

Mr Gavin Tait1980 MBChB, 1977 BSc

George Romanes inspired a generation of medical students while delivering his lectures. He would bustle around the department in his short sleeved white coat but always had time for students. It was also a real pleasure to have him share his encyclopaedic knowledge around the anatomy dissection table.

Professor James Garden1977 MBChB, 1974 BSc

Thank you to everyone who emailed us, we have passed on all correspondance to George's family and friends.