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Howard Walter Florey was born on 24 September 1898 at Malvern, Adelaide, South Australia.
Howard was the only son of Joseph Florey, a boot manufacturer from England, and his second wife, Australian born Bertha Mary, née Wadham. He had two older sisters.
Howard attended the Collegiate School of St Peter and the University of Adelaide (M.B., B.S., 1921; M.D., 1944). In 1921, Howard sailed for England as a Rhodes scholar. At the University of Oxford (B.A., B.Sc., 1924; M.A., 1935), he studied in the honour school of physiology under Sir Charles Sherrington who became an 'influential guide and friend'. Florey transferred in 1924 to the University of Cambridge (Ph.D., 1927; M.A., 1928).
Howard met Mary Ethel Hayter Reed (M.B., B.S., 1924; M.D., 1950) when he was a student in Adelaide. They were married on 19 October 1926 at Holy Trinity parish church, Paddington, London. Howard's wife, Ethel, collaborated with her husband in the book, Antibiotics, and published under her own name a companion work, The Clinical Application of Antibiotics (London), in four volumes. Lady Florey died of myocardial infarction on 10 October 1966 at Marston and was buried at St Nicholas Church, Old Marston, Oxford.
Howard and Ethel had two children:
On 6 June 1967 at the register office, Oxford, he married a divorcee Margaret Augusta Jennings, née Fremantle (d.1994), a long-time colleague in his Oxford laboratories. Survived by her, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage, he died of myocardial infarction on 21 February 1968 at his Queen's College lodgings and was cremated.
Howard Florey's greatest contribution to science was the development of penicillin as a systemic antibacterial agent. In 1938-39 Florey and Chain jointly initiated a systematic investigation of the biological and biochemical properties of antibacterial substances produced by bacteria and fungi. They eventually selected penicillin, discovered by Fleming in 1928, for detailed examination. It proved so promising in experiments on mice infected with streptococci and staphylococci that all the resources of the laboratory were devoted to its production on a scale that would allow testing on humans. The difficulties in wartime Britain were immense, but, due to the enterprise of Florey's team and a variety of 'Heath Robinson' contraptions, enough penicillin was prepared to carry out clinical trials in 1941.
In 1944 he visited Australia to discuss the local production of penicillin and to report on the state of medical research in the country of his birth. He produced a paper that played a major role in establishing the Australian National University. From 1947 to 1957 he was closely connected with the development of the university, particularly of the John Curtin School of Medical Research. Offered the directorship of the school in 1948, he temporized and did not finally decline until 1957. Meanwhile, as 'adviser' to the school (1948-55), he was effectively its non-resident head. He opened the school's permanent building in 1958 and became chancellor of the university in 1965.
Florey was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1941 and knighted in 1944. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1945 was awarded jointly to Sir Alexander Fleming, Ernst Boris Chain and Sir Howard Walter Florey "for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases". Also in 1945, Howard was appointed to the French Légion d'honneur in 1946, was awarded the U.S.A.'s Medal of Merit in 1948, and received numerous medals and prizes from societies in England and abroad, as well as honorary degrees from many British, Australian and other universities. In 1965 he was created Baron Florey of Adelaide and Marston, and was appointed to the Order of Merit.
Howard Florey authored or co-authored some two hundred scientific papers.
A suburb in Canberra is named after Florey and his likeness adorns the Australian $50 note; a research institute in Melbourne, a lecture theatre and professorship in the John Curtin school, and a joint Royal Society-A.N.U. lecture and travelling fellowship bear his name. In England his name is attached to a fellowship at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and to a building belonging to The Queen's College. A memorial tablet was unveiled at St Nicholas's parish church, Marston, in 1980, and a commemorative stone in Westminster Abbey was unveiled in November 1981. There are portraits of Florey by Frederick Deane in the Sir William Dunn school, by Henry Carr in the Royal Society's apartments, by Allan Gwynne-Jones in the University of Adelaide and by (Sir) William Dargie in Florey's old school. A head in bronze by John Dowie has been placed in North Terrace, Adelaide.
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