The First Gates Lecturer: Robert Swain Morison, M.D.

After it was decided to establish the Frederick Taylor Gates Lectureship, it was our task—that of Chancellor Wallis, President Sproull, and myself—to select the lecturer who would launch this series. It was an easy task and a pleasant one as the candidacy of Robert Swain Morison came immediately to mind. He is no stranger to Rochester. This university has benefited from his scientific and administrative counsel and has honored itself in bestowing upon Dr. Morison the honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

He has had not one but three careers. Unto each he has brought distinction. For nine years, following his graduation from the Harvard Medical School, he served as teacher and investigator in Harvard’s departments of physiology and anatomy, where he benefited immensely from the creative scholarship and wisdom of his illustrious teachers, Walter Cannon, George Wislocki, and Arturo Rosenblueth. In his studies of the anatomy and physiology of the nervous system, he, together with his colleagues, his wife Beningna, and Edward Dempsey, made important contributions to the understanding of the thalamocortical relay systems in the mammalian brain. I had not realized how important or how renowned were these studies until they were quoted with praise by Petr Kuzmich Anokhin, student of Pavlov, and the distinguished professor of physiology at the University of Moscow, on my visit to Moscow in March 1960.

In his second career, under the tutelage of his mentor, Alan Gregg, for many years. medical director of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. Morison had numerous and varied assignments both here and abroad which gave him an unusual opportunity to become broadly informed in matters of medical and scientific education and in the general conduct of universities. His sustained interest in science was attested to by the publication of a book entitled Scientist, which was written to assist the teenage reader in search of a career. Dr. Morison succeeded Dr. Gregg and was appointed director of the medical and natural sciences at the Rockefeller Foundation. He has served as a trustee at Bennington and Reed colleges, on the boards of the Grass and Russell Sage foundations, and on the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation. He has given generously of his time and wisdom to a number of professional health and educational organizations.

In 1963 he was asked to chair a committee to review basic biology at Cornell. As a result of the committee’s recommendations, there ensued a reorganization of the Division of Basic Biology, and Dr. Morison was invited to be its director. His administrative as well as his scholarly skills were applied to further the growth and development of this new division. In 1970, as an addendum to his third career, he was appointed the Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Science and Society in the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at Cornell University. With his return to the university he has become an established senior statesman in the field of medicine and the health sciences. His genuine concern for many current matters of great importance and of controversy—the identification of death, the concern for the dying patient, the human fetus as useful research material, and numerous others—attest to his courage, his insistence on reason, and his compassion for mankind.

As medical scientist, foundation executive, university scholar, and administrator, Dr. Morison enjoyed—as he continues to enjoy—a long, intimate, and informed experience with philanthropy and with universities here and abroad. He was thus uniquely prepared in scholarship and experience to deliver the first series of the Frederick Taylor Gates Lectures.

John Romano, M.D.
Distinguished University Professor of Psychiatry University of Rochester