Prof. (Thomas) Graham Brown

1882 - 1965

Mountaineer and neurophysiologist. Born into a medical family in the New Town of Edinburgh, Brown's father was a President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Brown attended Edinburgh Academy and then read science and medicine at the University of Edinburgh before moving to Glasgow and then Liverpool. His career was interrupted by service in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War. After the war, Brown continued his work on the physiology of the nervous system and he accepted the Chair in Physiology at the University of Wales at Cardiff in 1920. Here he spent the remainder of his career as a bachelor-academic, living alone in a nearby hotel. He oversaw considerable growth in the reputation of Cardiff Medical School and the number of students.

Brown is best known as a mountaineer and, during the 1920s and 30s, his achievements in the Alps surpassed those of any other British climber. He was to establish and climb three new routes up the Brenva face of Mont Blanc. He was the first to reach the top of Mount Foraker in Alaska (1935) and also climbed in the Himalayas and the Karakorams.

He retired in 1947. Leaving his hotel, he lived as a semi-recluse in a tower-room within the Cardiff Institute of Physiology, surrounded by books and newspapers. With the help of parts hand-made by his former Institute's technicians, he converted an old lifeboat, which he kept at Mallaig and used to cruise the Western Isles of Scotland. He returned to Edinburgh in 1961, where he died. He lies buried next to his parents in Dean Cemetery. Brown bequeathed his outstanding collection of Alpine and mountaineering literature to the National Library of Scotland and his house as a home for student members of Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club, known as Graham Brown House. This was rather disgracefully sold by the University in the 1990s, although they did provide the club with a more modest flat in Nicholson Street which still bears his name.

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