Search site


Romaine Hervey

Colleagues will be sorry to learn of the death, on 20 February 2016, of Professor Romaine Hervey (George Romaine Hervey).

Born in Leeds in 1924, Romaine was educated at Winchester College and at King’s College, Cambridge, where he obtained a first in both parts of the natural sciences tripos. He pursued clinical studies at King’s College Hospital, London, before spending two years as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Navy, where he served with distinction and where he kindled the naval association that was to last for the rest of his career. Significant academic roles in Cambridge, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Aberdeen followed before his return to Leeds in 1967 in order to take up the Chair in Physiology, succeeding Professor Albert Hemingway, in the School of Medicine. He was Head of the Department from 1967 to 1978.

Romaine’s years in the Department of Physiology were marked by many changes. These included the location of the department and the configuration of its teaching spaces (he was particularly concerned with the introduction of multidisciplinary laboratories and took characteristic care to ensure that everything was done to ensure that students were not disadvantaged by the new arrangements); the physiology curriculum (particularly following the separation of Cardiology into a new and separate department); and, as throughout many departments of the University, changes occasioned by rapid phases of expansion in student, particularly undergraduate, recruitment. Throughout it all he was a resolute leader of and advocate for his Department, and with the support of his first wife Elizabeth (who sadly died in 1985) and, later, his second wife Dr Morag Bailey, he worked hard to engender and to maintain a ‘family’ atmosphere in which staff and students felt part of a true community.

Romaine was unusual amongst medically qualified physiologists for the depth and breadth of his basic scientific training and this was reflected in the rigour, quality, and sheer range of his research. He was intrigued by both animal and human physiology, with a particular emphasis earlier in his career upon the application of control systems to whole animal physiology (in which connection he pioneered the introduction of computerised measuring techniques to the discipline) and a later interest in feeding (and its hormonal control) and nutrition in both humans and animals, on which he lectured and published widely. His work on anabolic steroids is particularly well known, and with colleagues at the MRC he produced a ground-breaking study of the physical characteristics of long distance swimmers. He travelled widely to contribute to seminars and conferences and was in demand as an external examiner in the UK and overseas.

Romaine also maintained a strong commitment to the Royal Navy. Despite a tendency (which he always dismissed) to suffer from seasickness, in 1942 he answered a call for student volunteers for a Royal Navy research programme to address the loss of life in the water after the sinking of ships, often in cold climates. The principal outcome was the inflatable naval life raft, now standard equipment on almost all ships. Romaine subsequently served as a distinguished civilian consultant to the Royal Navy and, for forty years, as a member of the MRC Royal Naval Personnel Research Committee as well as the chair of numerous working parties on survival at sea.

As well as his outstanding research record, Romaine was an excellent teacher. A naturally shy and modest man, he was nonetheless able to lecture with clarity and confidence, and his boundless enthusiasm for his subject and the depth of his wider scientific knowledge inspired generations of students. He even ran field trips each Easter vacation, for final year undergraduates of the department, to the naval medical laboratories in Gosport, where his students endured various torments in Romaine’s infamous, but always productive, do-it-yourself experiments in the country’s only refrigerated swimming pool.

Romaine was highly valued amongst his colleagues for his sterling character and honesty; his intellectual rigour and his combination of perfectionism and tenacity that would admit no defeat until a problem was solved. He had, a contemporary once said, that innate brightness that shines from a keen mind. As well as his formidable academic achievements, he took a full part in the administrative and collegiate life of the University. He was a longstanding member of the University Senate and served on a variety of boards and subcommittees, particularly those associated with the Faculty of Science, examinations, scholarships and research degrees. He was an early and enthusiastic member of the University Staff Walking Club, joining a walk most weekends, as well as the University Wine and Dining Clubs, and he regularly entertained colleagues at his home.

Romaine Hervey will be remembered at Leeds with enormous respect. His academic achievements and the legacy that he left to the Royal Navy are tremendous. He will also be remembered with great warmth for his personal integrity, his dedication, and his ability to bring out the best in those around him. He is survived by his children and stepson, Aidan, Aycliffe, Brandreth, Morwena and Dick, and by his grandchildren.

The funeral will take place at 2pm on Wednesday 16 March at St Thomas Church, St Thomas Street, Wells, BA5 2UZ.  Donations to Médecins Sans Frontières would be welcomed in lieu of flowers, care of Forsey and Son, Funeral Directors, 28 High Street, Butleigh, Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 8SY. In Romaine’s memory the flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half-mast on the day of the funeral.