Walter Plowright. 20 July 1923 — 20 February 2010

P. M. Biggs


Walter Plowright was a distinguished veterinary scientist who spent most of his active research life in Africa in the Colonial Service studying infectious diseases of cattle, sheep and pigs. Walter came from Lincolnshire farming stock but during his grammar school education decided that rather than following a career on the family farm he wished to be a veterinary surgeon. On graduating from the Royal Veterinary College, London, in 1944 he joined the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and had postings to the Middle East, Kenya and North Africa. It was this experience that convinced him he wished to spend his career in studying infectious disease of animals. Soon after demobilization he joined the Colonial Veterinary Service, in which he made major contributions to the understanding and control of several infectious diseases. His major contribution was the development of a tissue-culture-adapted attenuated rinderpest vaccine and seeing it into practical use. This vaccine has been the keystone in the global eradication of this disease, only the second disease after smallpox to be eradicated worldwide. This was a massive contribution to agriculture and humanity, and was recognized by the award of the World Food Prize. Walter had a clear and incisive mind, and his research was characterized by novelty, perseverance and attention to detail. He was driven by a wish that his work would provide an understanding of infectious diseases and contribute practically to their control.