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Downie, Ewen Thomas Taylor (1902–1977)

by Bryan Hudson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Ewen Thomas Taylor Downie (1902-1977), medical practitioner, was born on 22 April 1902 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, son of Thomas Taylor Downie, a doctor from Scotland, and his wife Katherine, née Smith, who was born in the Philippines. Educated at Scotch College and the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1925; M.D., 1929), Ewen spent two years as a resident and registrar at the Alfred Hospital. He made the conventional pilgrimage to London where he worked with (Sir) Francis Fraser at St Barthomolew's Hospital and qualified M.R.C.P. (1928).

Returning to Melbourne, Downie was appointed assistant to the asthma clinic at the Alfred. He developed a particular interest in diabetes and, with A. B. Corkill, launched an educational programme on the treatment of diabetes mellitus with diet and insulin. In 1929 he succeeded Corkill as physician in charge of the hospital's diabetic clinic. He also worked at the Baker Medical Research Institute on aspects of carbohydrate metabolism and in 1932 was awarded the Bertram Armytage prize for medical research. On 10 March that year at Scots Church, Melbourne, he married with Presbyterian forms a nursing sister Muriel Mary Cumming. Physician to out-patients (1932-41) and honorary physician to in-patients (1941-56) at the Alfred Hospital, he was sub-dean (1932-45) of the clinical school and a foundation fellow (1938) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

On 1 February 1941 Downie was appointed major, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. He served in general hospitals in the Middle East (1941-42) and in Australia (1942-44). Promoted temporary colonel, he was sent to Washington in 1944 where he became assistant director general, medical services, with the Australian Military Mission. Back home, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers as lieutenant colonel on 13 December 1945.

Elevated F.R.C.P. (1945), in 1948 Downie was Stewart lecturer in medicine at the university. As dean (1946-57) of the clinical school, he succeeded (Sir) Wilberforce Newton and dominated the hospital's medical education policy. He also ran the diabetic and metabolic unit until 1962. Six years later it was named after him. Downie's contributions to the fields of metabolism, nutrition and diabetes had earned him a reputation outside Australia. In 1955 he lectured at the University of Toronto, Canada, and in 1950 and 1957 to the American College of Physicians at Philadelphia. His interest in diabetes and metabolism led to the recognition of endocrinology as a sectional specialty in internal medicine and to the formation of the Endocrine Society of Australia, of which he was first president (1958-60).

After his retirement in 1962, Downie retained an association with the Alfred through its board of management (vice-president 1960-67) and as honorary consultant physician to the diabetic clinic. Despite a laryngectomy, he continued to practise and to participate in public meetings almost until his death. Friends and critics admired his fortitude during these latter years. While he could be acerbic with colleagues who had not gained his respect and was intolerant of anyone who created disorder, he was intensely loyal to those who served him well, and spared no effort to help younger people in their careers. He belonged to the Metropolitan Golf and Melbourne clubs. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died on 1 August 1977 at Kew and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $162,649.

Select Bibliography

  • T. E. Lowe, The Thomas Baker, Alice Baker and Eleanor Shaw Medical Research Institute (Melb, c1974)
  • A. M. Mitchell, The Hospital South of the Yarra (Melb, 1977)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 June 1953, 20 May 1956.

Citation details

Bryan Hudson, 'Downie, Ewen Thomas Taylor (1902–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/downie-ewen-thomas-taylor-10042/text17709, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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