Famous Former Pupils

  Sir Alexander Fleming

  Lord Boyd Orr

John Boyd Orr, 1st Baron Boyd Orr of Brechin Mearns (1880-1971)

Doctor, Scientist, Nutritionist and Nobel Laureate

John Boyd Orr was born in Kilmaurs. When he was five the family moved from the village, where his father was a quarry-master, to West Kilbride. He was sent back to Kilmaurs, lodging with an employee of his father, in order to complete his education at Kilmarnock Academy. His father's business had done poorly and Boyd Orr was enabled to attend Kilmarnock Academy through winning a bursary - a grant which defrayed the cost of his school fees. He enrolled in the school on 11 September 1893. The entry in McDougall's New Admission Register arranged to meet regulations of Scotch Education Department, Dated 26th March 1887, still held in Kilmarnock Academy, records:





THE NAME AND ADDRESS OF PARENT OR GUARDIAN Robert Orr, Hollandgreen Quarry, Kilmaurs


Unfortunately, no records are extant of school leavers for this period and it is not known how long Boyd Orr was a pupil in the school. To judge from the passage in his autobiography, As I Recall (1966), describing his experience at Kilmarnock Academy, his stay in the school was probably brief - evidently he did not, for example, know Alexander Fleming while at school and this suggests he may have left before or shortly after Fleming enrolled in August 1894 (see Sir Alexander Fleming above). In his autobiography, As I Recall (1966), Boyd Orr candidly confessed that 'I found life at the quarry among the navvies and quarrymen much more interesting than walking two miles to the Academy in Kilmarnock. My report from the Academy must have shocked my parents for I was taken home and sent again to the village school where I was soon taken on as one of the four pupil teachers.'

Despite his early lack of attention to formal learning, Boyd Orr could have been, in the words of Lord Ritchie Calder, "successful in any one of half a dozen careers." He graduated from the University of Glasgow with an MA and after a brief spell as a teacher, he went back to the University to study medicine. It was while in Glasgow that he encountered the dreadful poverty and diseases of the slum children. This started him on a life-long crusade against these social evils.

In the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I, he won both the MC and the DSO for bravery. After the war he studied animal nutrition, becoming Director of the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, the founder of the Imperial Bureau of Animal Nutrition in 1929, and Professor of Agriculture at the University of Aberdeen from 1942 until 1945. One of his major interests was the study of the relationship between health and nutrition. It was the findings of this research which were adopted by the government and formed the basis of the diet that the nation kept during World War II. The healthy condition of the nation has been generally judged as a key factor in winning the war.

He became the M.P. for the Scottish Universities in 1945 but resigned the following year to become director-general of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation. At a time of severe world-wide food shortages it was his advice that averted famine conditions. He pointed out two problems: half of the world's population lacked sufficient food; farmers everywhere dared not overproduce in case they caused a slump in food prices and ruined themselves financially. His solution was to use one problem to solve the other: governments could use the excess to feed the needy.

Boyd Orr had a forthright personality and was outspoken on issues about which he felt strongly. There was a touch of eccentricity about him. Once he went into a barber's shop for a haircut . While deep in thought about a problem that he was trying to solve, he heard the barber ask if he wanted a shave. Boyd Orr replied that it was a haircut that he wanted. The barber protested that he had just finished giving him one. Not wanting his train of thought interrupted, he ordered the barber to cut his hair again!

He was knighted in 1935 and was created 1st Baron Boyd Orr of Brechin Mearns in 1949 and that same year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was Chancellor of the University of Glasgow from 1946 until 1971. His later years were devoted to the task of promoting world peace and unity.