Michael Robert Withington Brown (1931–2023)

On 10 November 2023, Michael Robert Withington Brown, aged 92 years, of Moseley, Birmingham. Mr Brown was a Fellow of the Society.


Michael Robert Withington Brown, emeritus professor of pharmacy and Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, has died at the age of 92 years. 

Mike was born in Wallasey in 1931 and studied pharmacy at the University of Manchester, where he was also a staff demonstrator in 1956/1957. Pharmacy was fortunate to capture Mike’s interest as he was an exceptionally talented racket player. He was captain and singles tennis champion at the University of Manchester, awarded university colours for tennis, table tennis and squash, and even claimed a game from tennis champion Jaroslav Drobny. Suitably captured, he was a lecturer at the School of Pharmacy, University of London (The Square), where he gained his PhD on bacterial spore resistance. He was then a research associate at the J. Hillis Miller Health Center, University of Florida, under the eminent pharmacokineticist Edward R Garrett and returned to the UK to be head of microbiology at the School of Pharmacy, University of Bath. It was his extraordinary passion for his subject, with some of us sitting on the edge of our seats while he lectured on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, that was to inspire so many.  As his postgraduate students, lab meetings to discuss results could be somewhat daunting. He was always fizzing with ideas that left you wondering how you were going to pack it all into the next set of experiments. His own occasional attempts to get back to the laboratory bench were not always welcomed or successful. On one occasion, a laboratory technician remarked that Mike was the only person they knew who could pour corrugated agar plates!

It was as professor and head of the School of Pharmacy at Aston University in Birmingham, starting in 1970 at the age of just 39 years, that Mike was to spend the majority of his career. There he built not only his own research group but, with colleague George Wibberley, he built the school to be one of the early research powerhouses in pharmacy through a purposefully international outlook and attracting the best young academics from around the world. Colleagues from those times recall the lively community that he and his wife Margaret brought together in their home to exchange views on life and politics. His ecumenical outlook was also expressed in his support to create the Martin Luther King Centre at Aston University as a centre for people of all faiths and none to pursue justice and peace through reasoned dialogue.

He consulted for numerous international pharmaceutical companies and was a board member of the West Midlands Regional Health Authority, chair of its Pharmaceutical Advisory Committee and a member of the Statutory Pharmaceutical Advisory Committee at the Department of Health and Social Security. He was chair of the UK Heads of Schools of Pharmacy, chair of the PSGB Science Committee and a non-executive director of the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research.

Mike was latterly dean and pro vice chancellor at Aston University and was never afraid to speak truth to power on the direction of the university. He retired in 1997, but that did not see him ease up at all. He spent periods at several universities, including returning to the University of Bath and the School of Pharmacy in London, but he gained some of the greatest satisfaction of his career spending extended periods at Stanford University in California with Nobel Laureate, the late Dr Arthur Kornberg, working on the role of polyphosphate on pathogen survival.

A lifelong burning curiosity that extended way beyond academic pharmacy and microbiology and into poetry and philosophy stayed with him to the end and he remained tireless in his thinking and writing.  Much of that thinking was captured in his book Human Survival, which he published in 2018. 

Mike’s legacy lives on not only through the more than 200 papers he published, but through the many who were touched by his extraordinary humanity. They included not only those like us, who he nurtured and mentored throughout our careers, but also the desperate stranger in the street who he would never pass by without a kind word and the offer of support and some money. 

It has become a cliché to write of the passing of giants, but this has never been truer than with Mike’s passing. We will not see his like again. He was a devoted a family man and we extend our deepest condolences to his wife Margaret and their children and grandchildren.

Anthony Smith, Rosamund Baird, John Farwell and Bill Watkins

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, January 2024, Vol 312, No 7981;312(7981)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.202152

1 comment

  • Michael Achiampong

    I am deeply sorry to read of Prof. Brown's passing. I had no clue of his stellar achievements as he was so down to earth and unassuming. I fondly recall during our first small group tutorial as an Aston undergrad in September 1990 he told me to consider developing an unconventional pharmacy career. Puzzled, I had no clue of what that might mean. So it was only after many, many years' pharmacy practice in most branches of the profession that we met again briefly at the steps to the library of the London School of Pharmacy's in 2009/10 and somehow, he instantly remembered me! Naturally, I regaled him of his guidance about my portfolio career path. During the uncertainty of the global coronavirus pandemic, I often wondered whether the Sage scientists ought to draw on some of his expertise? So rest well Professor with my deepest condolences to your family and friends both inside and outside of the pharmacy profession.


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