Obituary: Emeritus Professor Harold Perkins

Former colleagues Professor Clive Edwards, Professor Alan McCarthy, Linda Marsh, Dr Peter Miller and Professor Jon Saunders pay tribute:

“Harold Robert Perkins, Emeritus Professor of Microbiology, University of Liverpool, sadly died on 23rd August 2016, aged 91. Harold retired from the University at the end of September 1989, having come to Liverpool in 1974 to set up a Department of Microbiology in the Faculty of Science. This move to the north of England and the return to University life followed a distinguished career in a variety of research institutes in London.

After graduating in Chemistry from University College London in 1945, and following a short spell as an industrial chemist, Harold moved into biology to study the biochemistry of the skeletal system and bone composition, first at the Lister Institute and then at the London Institute of Orthopaedics. In 1956, he was appointed to a post at the MRC National Institute of Medical Research, and with this move began Harold’s enduring interest in microbes. This was an exciting time at Mill Hill working with Howard Rogers, a world authority on bacterial physiology. The Rogers-Perkins partnership flourished and one of its fruits was the publication of a book that was to become the definitive text on the bacterial cell wall. It was the role of bacterial cell walls in the action of antibiotics that became the focus of Harold’s research. The success of this work was marked by his appointment as Tenured Scientist, a rare event in those days, and subsequently as Head of the Laboratory for Bacterial and Tissue Cell Surfaces. Harold’s award of the D.Sc. by London University in 1974 coincided with his move from Mill Hill to the Chair of Microbiology at Liverpool. In 1975, he was distinguished by the award of Fellowship of the Institute of Biology.

During his time at Liverpool, Harold’s career was characteristically marked by a series of firsts, including his appointment as the Chairman of the School of Life Sciences Management Committee. His profile of service to the University was very high, notably with his appointment as Dean of the Faculty of Science between 1983 and 1985, followed by his appointment as Pro-Vice-Chancellor from 1985 to 1988. These responsibilities came during difficult times for the University, which – among other things – resulted in radical changes in patterns of organisation and management. Harold’s rational and balanced approach was a strong element in maintaining a measure of stability during this unsettled period.

As a Head of Department, Harold created with a small, young and enthusiastic staff a Department known for the popularity of its undergraduate courses and the quality of research. The areas of microbial pathogenicity and environmental microbiology were particular specialities in the Department’s research profile, and in addition to the Honours course in Microbiology, an industrially-based course in Microbial Biotechnology was initiated.

During the last two years of Harold’s time at Liverpool, the Life Sciences underwent dramatic changes with the creation of the School of Life Sciences and the formation of a new departmental structure, much of which is still with us.

Notwithstanding the numerous demands on his time, Harold returned home each night to change his hat to that of Warden of Derby and Rathbone Hall. Many remembered the highly sociable atmosphere that Harold and his wife Margaret created at Greenbank and the care and attention they gave to numerous generations of undergraduates, which was so essential in providing the stable background to a well-run Hall of Residence.

After such an active and energetic academic career, Harold and Margaret retired to their beautiful house in the Lake District and subsequently moved south to Cheltenham to be closer to their children and grandchildren.”

With thanks to Don Ritchie (The Recorder, February 1990).

Leave a comment