Owen St. Clair Morgan was born on 26th April 1939 to Arthur Alexander Morgan and his wife Lucetta “Miss Etta” B. Morgan. They taught at Bryce Elementary School, near Christiana, Manchester. His father Arthur was head teacher, and with his staff they brought the school from a C to an A Grade School.
His upbringing was not lavish. His parents augmented the modest teachers’ income with the rearing of cows and chickens and intense gardening. Owen, of his own volition, wanted from an early age to be a doctor, so he was nicknamed “Doc.” He was also influenced by his mentor-to-be, the legendary Dr. Vincent Robb, who was posted to the Percy Junor Hospital in nearby Spaldings.
His parents were insistent on study, wide reading, and doing well in school. Owen passed the Third Year Jamaica Local examinations at age 10, a feat normally associated with children 15 and older. He was also influenced by his parents’ very active contribution to the community. His father sometimes preached at Bryce Presbyterian, while his mother played the organ, trained the choir, and was active in women’s groups. His father also gave time to the Jamaica Agricultural Society, the All Island Banana Growers Association, and the Christiana Potato Growers Association.
Well Rounded Munronian
In 1950, Owen won a scholarship offered by the Munro and Dickenson Trust, and entered Munro. His mother insisted that he always be in the first five in his form, while encouraging participation in games and in extracurricular activities. He complied for the most part. He made the school athletic team, cricket team, the football team as goalie, the hockey team, and played a fair game of tennis – both table and lawn.
He played the organ for morning chapel from time to time, and he was Head Perfect in 1956, Munro’s centennial year, and had much to do with organization of the celebration under the guidance of the late T.M. Whitmarsh-Knight. He passed School Certificate examinations in 1953, and passed the Higher School Certificate examinations in 1956.
He left Munro and worked at the Sugar Manufacturers Association in Mandeville for a few months, and on the recommendation of Dr. Robb, entered Trinity College, in Dublin, Ireland, where real academic enquiry began. One of his Lecturers was Professor E.T.S Walton, who along with Sir. John Cockcroft, won a Nobel Prize for splitting the atom at Cavendish Laboratories in 1942. He was both perceptive and kind, and pointed Owen in a direction that could be summed up in the dictum “Read ahead of your lectures and when attending lectures, LISTEN, and make a minimum of jottings – no copious notes!” He followed that advice, and watched his grades climb to his graduation in 1962. He did post doctorate work at Belfast, and again at Dublin.
By 1969, his qualifications included an MA (Master of Arts) and the MD based on his thesis titled: “Studies on Iron-binding by Human Gastric Juice.” By that time too, he was a member of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, in Ireland.
Physician, Professor, Researcher
1970 saw him back in Jamaica, as Consultant Physician at the University Hospital of the West Indies, by 1980 Consultant Neurologist, and by 1984, Professor of Medicine UWI – the first Jamaican to be so honoured. Since 1985 he has been Adjunct Professor at the University of Miami. He was appointed Professor of Neurology the UWI and in 1999 became Dean of The Faculty of Medical Sciences.
His research work gained him awards locally, and appointments to numerous committees, which enhanced student access to better lectureship, computer assisted learning, and financial assistance. Research also put him in touch with the international community in the United States, Canada, Tanzania, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, England, France, and Saudi Arabia, to name a few. He helped many students in myriad ways at Mona, and established links with universities aboard so that courses not offered in Jamaica could be obtained there.
Owen’s own research involved studies on Tropical Spastic Pareparesis (TSP), and the role of Human – T-Cell lymphotropic Virus (HTLV-1) in TSP; the mapping of disease in Jamaica, and the electrophysiological properties of TSP. Dementia and its ethnic links especially in Nigerians, African Americans, and Jamaicans is a of part his present focus.His publications include 103 papers, 36 of which are published in the West Indian Medical Journal.
It is a curious commentary on success in Medical pursuits that one goes up the ladder from Mister to Bachelor to Master to Doctor to Post Doctor then back to Mister, then just a plain Fellow and then back to Master. Owen Morgan has achieved them all. He is a Master of the American College of Physicians, and there are less than 300 such Masters in the world, of which he is the only one in the Caribbean. He is a member of the Association of Minority Physicians in the US, and he is a visiting professor to Canada, the US, and Tanzania. As a member of the Dwight Eisenhower Foundation’s People-to-People Programme, he helped create understanding between the Jamaican and South African medical communities. From the UWI, he received the Pelican and the Vice Chancellors awards for Excellence.
As Chairman of the Munro and Dickenson Trust, succeeding J.O. “Jackie” Minott, he resisted the temptation to sell Munro property to augment the meagre Trust funds. Noting the poor performance of students in English, he proposed and saw to the implementation of a scheme whereby teachers in feeder primary schools around Munro could improve their teaching of English at Bethlehem Teachers’ Training College. He also sat on the Munro College Board of Governors.
In 2006 the Government of Jamaica conferred on Owen Morgan the National Honour of Order of Distinction (Commander Class) in 1997, and the Order Of Jamaica in 2006.
His highest attainment, however, occurred in 1973, when he married Paulette Folkes – a quiet tower of strength, and producer of their daughter Lisa.
For all the above reasons, Professor the Hon Owen St. Clair Morgan, OJ, was inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.