John Boyd Orr

John Boyd Orr

John Boyd Orr, known as “Popeye” to his family, is a well-known name amongst students of Strathclyde University in Glasgow where they have named a building after him.


He was born on the 23rd September 1880 in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire to a father described as being pious and intelligent but with depleted finance. He attended the village school and then Kilmarnock Academy and eventually left there because he reputedly “had no interest in academia”. He  returned home and helped teach at the village school for a meagre £20 a year until he was 18yrs. Aided by a scholarship he attended teacher training college and Glasgow University. It was in Glasgow he saw the crushing poverty of the slums and this had a marked effect on him. He briefly taught in secondary school and of his experience he wrote

“Though I loved children, I hated teaching them”. He left this profession and obtained two further degrees in biology and medicine. He decided not to practice medicine but to go into medical research instead and accepted a 2yr Carnegie research fellowship in physiology.

In 1914 he accepted the position of director of the Rowett Institute of Animal Nutrition in Aberdeen and moved there only to discover that although it existed in theory it did not exist in practice. Interestingly the day he arrived was April Fools Day! He began the mammoth task of building up the Institute but his work ceased on the commencement of WW1

He served as a medical officer and saw action at the Somme and Passhendaele eventually receiving the DSO and MC , which he refused to wear saying “all the really brave men were dead”. He resigned his commission and served in the Royal Navy until the end of the war.

john boyd orr

After the war he continued to build the Institute but eventually his interests turned to human nutrition and was known not only as a researcher but a propagandist for healthful diets for people everywhere. He helped to formulate the British policy on food during the WW11.

He retired at 65yrs but accepted many prestigious positions, including rector and chancellor of Glasgow University and a seat in the commons. He was awarded the Nobel prize in 1949 and made a lord. He died in 1971 much respected for his ability as well as his humanity.



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