George Norris Melville (15th Dec 1939-26th Mar 2011)

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Professor George Norris Melville is an individual with a staggering list of achievements. During his professional life, he has been academician, researcher, diplomat and administrator, but he is best known in Trinidad and Tobago for formulating the proposal that led to the establishment of the Faculty of Medical Sciences of The University of the West Indies (UWI) at Mount Hope. A prolific researcher, Melville has published over 130 refereed scientific papers and three books during his distinguished career.

Born in Roxborough, Tobago on 15th December 1939, Melville was educated at Ebenezer Methodist School and Bishop’s High School, Tobago. He enjoyed his schooldays, which he shared with his close-knit family and multitude of friends. Melville’s natural ability in the sciences, coupled with the fact that his parents both suffered with non-communicable diseases, fuelled his desire to study medicine. It took the loss of his job with the Federal Government, however, to propel him to pursue higher studies in Canada. At the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, he obtained a Bachelor of Science (BSc) General in 1966, followed by a Master of Science (MSc) in Physiology from Dalhousie University in Halifax in 1968. After a study year in Germany, he travelled to Jamaica to lecture at the University of the West Indies, and pursue his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Physiology, which he completed in 1972.

This became a turning point for Melville, who decided to pursue medicine. In that same year, he returned to Germany where he began his medical degree and taught physiology at the University of Essen (now Duisberg-Essen). He also worked at the Silicosis Research Institute, the Herne Medical Centre and Ruhr University. His research focused on the effect of mucus-producing disease on lung function, and he created a model to study the effect of irritants on the respiratory system of animals. By 1977, Melville had become a Doctor of Medicine (MD) (under the mentoring of Dr Josef Iravani, now deceased), received two substantial research grants and worked on over 40 publications since he first set off for Canada.

In 1978, Dr Melville returned to Jamaica as Professor and Head of the Physiology Department at UWI. He served as Associate Dean and Vice Dean before being called to UWI in Trinidad and Tobago in 1985. Between 1987 and 1988, he served as CARICOM Health Advisor in Guyana and returned to Trinidad and Tobago when the Government accepted his proposal for a self-financing, full-programme medical school. The Faculty of Medical Sciences, St. Augustine emerged in 1989.

After being Vice Dean from 1989 to 1993, Melville became Dean in 1993. His four-year term saw the Faculty earning a large European Union grant to study Health Reform in the Caribbean, and it soon rose as both a sound financial entity and a research-capable institution. During his tenure, the Faculty became an international standard for problem-based learning medical schools. Collaborations were initiated with tertiary institutions in India and Malaysia in 1994, a pharmacy programme was opened in 1995 and a clinical training programme began in The Bahamas in 1997.

Professor Melville sat on the Academic Board of UWI for 10 years and served as the Chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Vision 2020 Sub-Committee on Health. He was a member of the North West Regional Health Authority Board and Fellow of both the Caribbean Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS).

After a long and illustrious life, he passed away in 2011.