Roy Douglas Wright, Sir - Biography

Roy Douglas Wright, Professor Emeritus, Sir (1907-1990) AK, MB, MS, DSc (ANU and Melb.), Hon. LLD (Melb. and ANU), FRACP. Deputy Chancellor 10 April 1972-3 March 1980, Chancellor 3 March 1980-31 December 1989 (Professor of Physiology).

Roy Douglas Wright was born 7 August 1907 in Central Castra, Tasmania, the ninth of ten children to Emma (neé Lewis) and John Wright.


Wright was educated at Devonport High School from where he graduated with outstanding results and won numerous scholarships including the Education Department Scholarship, Science Scholarship, Sir Richard Dry Exhibition, a General Scholarship and the Gilchrist Watt Scholarship. In 1924 Wright completed first year of science at the University of Tasmania before entering the University of Melbourne in 1925 on a full scholarship to Queens College where he commenced a Bachelor of Medicine. So began a life-long association with the University of Melbourne which saw Roy Douglas Wright progress from an outstanding undergraduate student to becoming Professor in Physiology and a member of the University Council.

University of Melbourne: Student to Chancellor

Graduating in 1929 with a Bachelor of Medicine, Wright then worked as surgeon and pathologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where his interest in experimental science and research developed. In 1932 his Master of Surgery was conferred and Wright was appointed Steward Lecturer in Pathology (1932-1934). Subsequently he became Senior Lecturer in Pathology (1934-1938) and in 1937 was awarded the prestigious Syme Prize for Research.

After two years (1936-1938) research work in Oxford under the direction of Sir Howard Florey, Wright returned to Melbourne and was appointed Professor of Physiology (1939-1971). He served as Dean, Faculty of Medicine (1946-1947; 1951-1952), Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Science (1945-1962) and Dean, Faculty of Science (1969). Wright was elected by Convocation to the University Council (1971-1990), assuming the office of Deputy Chancellor (1972-1980). In 1980, Wright was awarded a Degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) and became Chancellor (1980-1989). In 1983, for his service to education, learning and medicine, Wright was made a Knight in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AK).

Wright lobbied hard both to establish and develop medical research institutions, ensuring they were well funded and prestigious enough to attract, foster and retain Australia's best research scientists. His legacy is seen in the world class institutions of the Peter MacCallum Clinic, the Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine and the John Curtin School of Medical Research.

Cancer Institute Board - Peter MacCallum Clinic

Since 1943 Wright and Peter MacCallum had been actively advocating for the establishment of a specialist cancer hospital in Melbourne but had meet great opposition from the hospital establishment. Wright maintained a public campaign in the newspapers which ultimately brought enough pressure to bear on the then Victorian Minister for Health, Albert Dunstan, to announce the allocation of 500,000 pounds to establish the Cancer Institute Board.

In 1948 the Cancer Institute Board was established by an Act of Parliament of the State of Victoria. Wright was a founding board member of the Cancer Institute (1949-1975), served as Chairman of Executive (1949-1971) and upon his retirement as Professor of Physiology from the University of Melbourne led the Institute as the Medical Director (1971-1975).

In 1950 an outpatient clinic was established and named in honour of Professor Peter MacCallum. In September 1977 the Douglas Wright Wing opened in recognition of his life-long commitment to research and cancer therapies. With lobbying from Wright the name was changed, in 1986, from the Cancer Institute Board to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute.

The Australian National University (ANU)

Wright was involved with Alfred Conlon in lobbying Sir Howard Florey during his 1944 visit to Australia to join what was to become the John Curtin School of Medical Research. Wright served as the Honorary Secretary (1946-1948) of the Interim Council of the ANU and subsequently was a foundation member of the Council (1946-1976). Wright was awarded a Doctor of Science (honoris causa) (1967) and for his 'distinguished contribution to the service of society' he was awarded a Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) (1977).

The Howard Florey Institute

Wright was instrumental in securing benefactions which enabled the foundation of the Howard Florey Laboratories of Experimental Physiology in 1963 which subsequently became The Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine. Wright served on the executive board (1971-1990) and was engaged as a research consultant (1976-1990) where, until the day before his death, he was actively pursuing his research.

Within the University of Melbourne, Wright was involved in the creation of the new department of Physiology as well as the Optometry and Veterinary Schools. Wright was widely admired for his strong beliefs in the academic mission of the University, the necessity of academic freedom, freedom of speech and in the idea of justice.

When carrying out duties of the chancellorship it is often remarked that he brought both gravity and an intensely sincere touch to conferment ceremonies where he took time to speak personally to all graduating students.

In 1931 Wright married Julia Bell with whom he had two children, Douglas and Julia. He died 28 February 1990, survived by his second wife Muriel (neé Wilmot, married 1964) and two children of his first marriage.

University of Melbourne

  • Entered Queen's College on full scholarship (1925)
  • Undergraduate, Faculty of Medicine (1925-1929)
  • Graduate Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery with Exhibitions in Anatomy, Physiology and Surgery (1929)
  • Resident Medical Tutor (1931)
  • Appointed Steward Lecturer in Pathology, Master of Surgery conferred (1932)
  • Senior Lecturer in Pathology (1934-1938)
  • Non-resident Medical Tutor (1935)
  • Awarded Syme Prize for Research (1939)
  • Elected Fellow of Queen's College (1939)
  • Professor of Physiology (1939-1971)
  • Degree of Doctor of Science conferred (1941)
  • Dean, Faculty of Veterinary Science (1945-1962)
  • Dean, Faculty of Medicine (1946-1947; 1951-1952)
  • Member of Council (1963-1990)
  • Dean, Faculty of Science (1969)
  • Deputy Chancellor (1972-1980)
  • Degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) (1980)
  • Chancellor, University of Melbourne (1980-1989)
  • President, Queen's College Foundation (1982-1990)
  • Appointed Knight in the General Division of the Order of Australia for service to education, to learning and to medicine (1983)

The Cancer Institute and The Peter MacCallum Clinic

  • Founding Board Member, Cancer Institute (1949-1975)
  • Chairman of Executive, The Cancer Institute (The Peter MacCallum Clinic) (1949-1971)
  • Medical Director, The Peter MacCallum Clinic (1971-1975)

Howard Florey Institute of Experimental Physiology and Medicine

  • Central role in foundation of the Institute (1963)
  • Founding board member (1971-1990)
  • Consultant, actively engaged in research (1976-1990)

The Australian National University (ANU)

  • A founder of the University (1945)
  • Honorary Secretary (1946-1948)
  • Member of Council (1946-1976)
  • Degree of Doctor of Science conferred (1967)
  • Degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) (1977)

Medical Appointments

  • Resident Medical Officer, Royal Melbourne Hospital (1930-1931)
  • Assistant Surgeon, Austin Hospital (1934)
  • Surgeon to Outpatients, Royal Melbourne Hospital (1935-1938)
  • Consulting Physiologist to the Royal Melbourne, St. Vincent's and Austin Hospitals (1939-1971)
  • Research in England Research with Professor Howard Florey, Oxford University (1936-1938; 1955)
  • Commonwealth Fellow; Visiting Professor, St. Mary's Hospital, University of London (1964)

World War II

Consultant to research units attached to Physiology Department, University of Melbourne. Member (with the rank of Colonel) Australian Army Research Directorate reporting to Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey; worked with the RAAF Physiology Research Unit, the Chemical Warfare Unit and member of the Prime Minister's Morale Committee, advising on measures to support civilian morale in Australia. (1939-1945)

Wright was involved in numerous professional associations including:

  • Physiological Society (England)
  • Physiological Society
  • Pathological Society
  • Australian and New Zealand for the Advancement of Science
  • Australian College of Education College of Pathologists
  • Victorian Society for Pathology and Experimental Medicine (Founding Member)

    Roy Douglas Wright, c. 1930s.

    Photographer Unknown Roy Douglas Wright Collection. BWP/12700