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Edward Maurice Backett

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 31 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1821
  1. Tony Hedley,
  2. Jim McEwen,
  3. Elizabeth Russell,
  4. Roy Weir

    Edward Maurice Backett (“Maurice”) studied zoology and psychology before medicine, and this diversity shaped his approach throughout his medical career. He belonged to a small group, including Archie Cochrane, Jerry Morris, John Pemberton, and Alice Stewart, who established pioneering departments of social medicine in medical schools in the 1950s and ’60s. First in the chair in Aberdeen and then in the foundation chair in community health at the new medical school in Nottingham, he fostered a decade of medical graduates with new experience and understanding of the determinants of disease and health as they arise from different modes of living.

    He brought his unique skills and enthusiasm to a curriculum where “the community” was a central theme. One of his stated aims was “to make soft data hard,” and the combined scientific disciplines of epidemiology and the social sciences influenced the entire curriculum. Indeed, the promotion of innovative and interdepartmental teaching with clinicians inspired and lastingly changed the outlook and interests of cohorts of students in many clinical specialties. He created a truly multidisciplinary and multi-professional department—a department that was exciting, stimulating, and dynamic, and led to an ambitious international research programme. Through commissions from the World Health Organization and similar organisations he had strong overseas links, and he and his wife, Shirley, hosted many stimulating and productive evenings of visiting experts and researchers alongside departmental staff and students, fostering collaborations that remain active.

    Maurice was a charismatic and inventive teacher, an enthusiastic and outstanding communicator who laid the basis for future generations of public health academics and international workers with the skills to make a difference. He married Shirley Paul-Thompson in 1940; she predeceased him in 2003, and he is survived by a son and two daughters.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c1821


    • Public health academic Universities of Aberdeen and Nottingham (b 1916; q Westminster Hospital 1944), d 2 December 2009.

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