Professor (Emeritus) James Boyer Brown AM (1919 - 2009)
Died peacefully at home October 31, 2009, aged
90 after a fulfilled life. Beloved and deeply loving husband
of Wendy. Cherished father and father-in-law of James and
Helen, Anthony and Ruth, Jean and Mick, Elizabeth and Nick.
Adored grandfather of Sally, Hilary and Catherine; Hamish,
Duncan, Grace and Lachlan; Raechel, Hannah, Daniel and Miriam;
Jasmine, Luke, Brigid and Billy.
A man of vision, humility, gentleness and perseverence who
served the Lord all of his days.
Good friend and colleague of Dr John Billings
(dec) and Dr Evelyn Billings. Thank you for your brilliant
work in the field of Hormone Analysis. Your expertise and
counsel will be greatly missed by all in the field. Our deepest
sympathy and prayers for Wendy and all of the family. - The
Worldwide Billings Ovulation Method Organisation.
Emeritus Professor, Department of Obstetrics
and Gynaecology, Royal Women's Hospital and University of
Farewell dear friend and colleague for 45 years. Chemist and
scientist of excellence, he unlocked the biochemical mysteries
that govern and control the menstrual cycle and human reproduction.
His original research contributions (hundreds of publications
that continued until death) allowed the developmwent of the
biochemical control of ovulation, conception and the hormonal
regulation of pregnancy.
His discoveries allowed the initiation and development of
ovulation induction and invitro fertilisation. He received
many academic awards, the exception being well deserved recognition
by the Nobel Committee. His massive contribution was to the
most exquisite branch of human endocrinology. - Norman A.
by Dr Adrian Thomas
Eulogy by daughter Jean
Eulogy by son Anthony
Eulogy by son
Message from the
Directors of WOOMB
Dr Adrian Thomas)
The scientific and medical community mourns
the loss of our esteemed colleague and good friend Emeritus
Professor James Boyer Brown AM, MSc (NZ), PhD (Edin), MSc
(Melb), DSc (Edin), FRANZCOG (Ad Eundem), Life Member Fertility
Society of Australia, Life Member Endocrine Society of Australia,
who passed away on Saturday 31st October 2009, aged 90.
Born 7 October 1919 in New Zealand and educated at Auckland
University College (MSc - First Class Honours in chemistry),
James Brown was manpowered to the laboratories at the Auckland
Hospital early in the Second World War. He rationalised the
sterilisation procedures at the hospital, qualified in bacteriology,
haematology and histology and built up the biochemistry laboratory
from some simple backroom tests to the type of facility that
exists today. He also set up the blood bank, the monitoring
of blood electrolytes and the production of sterile solutions
for peritoneal lavage (the precursor of renal dialysis).
During the war, chemicals that were required for the new tests
were often in short supply so he developed methods for synthesising
or regenerating them, using techniques that often required
innovative use of materials available. One example of his
innovative skills was the production of ampoules of blood-typed
sera for the Pacific forces using a home-made freezer. The
ability to innovate was a skill that he used to great advantage
right throughout his life and he was constantly searching
for better ways of doing things.
After the war in 1947, he developed an interest in endocrinology
and reproduction and started a small animal breeding surgery,
set up bioassays for urinary gonadotrophins and oestrogen
(the female hormone) and concluded that the most important
requirement in human reproduction was the development of a
highly accurate method for timing ovulation in women, similar
to the phenomenon of oestrus in animals. Measurements of the
oestrogens seemed to be the answer and he received a National
Research Scholarship to work in Edinburgh under Professor
Guy Marrian FRS, one of the discovers of oestrogens.
His aim was to develop a chemical method for measuring the
oestrogens in the urine and was given a position in the newly
established Clinical Endocrinology Research Unit in Edinburgh,
later to be appointed its Assistant Director. Notwithstanding
Marrian's attempts at dissuading him from this project, Brown
persisted and the essential problems were solved within a
few months but a fully validated method was not published
until 1955. This published paper has been cited over 1000
times and was awarded a full Citation Classic by the Institute
for Scientific Information.
Using this new method of measurement, Brown confirmed the
elegant patterns of oestrogen production throughout the menstrual
cycle which had been shown previously using labour intensive
bioassays. This work led to a PhD and The Lancet requested
the privilege of publishing the results obtained during the
menstrual cycle, conception, pregnancy, lactation and return
to fertility. His method was the "gold standard"
for measuring these hormones for almost 20 years until superseded
by radioimmunoassays on blood. He also collaborated with Arnold
Klopper in developing a urinary preganediol assay in non-pregnant
women which was awarded a half Citation Classic.
Possibly one of the greatest contributions made by Brown in
his early days in Edinburgh was the use of human gonadotrophin
for the induction of ovulation. Working with colleagues there
they purified these hormones and later developed the International
Standard Reference Preparation facilitating their widespread
usage. The Edinburgh unit was the second in the world to use
human gonadotrophins for ovulation induction in humans but
Brown, later working in Melbourne, would properly rationalise
In 1962 he accepted an appointment as First Assistant in the
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University
of Melbourne under Professor Lance Townsend. This was despite
many attractive offers from the USA including one from Dr
Gregory Pincus, the originator of the oral contraceptive pill.
It was here that he showed his true genius and, in conjunction
with his colleagues at the Royal Women's Hospital, he revolutionised
the use of gonadotrophins for the safe induction of ovulation.
He refined the his method for measuring urinary oestrogen
making it effectively a routine test which could be performed
in a few hours, thereby enabling these drugs to be used in
a safe manner and all but eliminating the risk of high order
multiple pregnancies which had been a feature of this treatment
up until that time. This was the first time that this approach
had been used and led to him developing the threshold theory
of ovarian follicle stimulation which stands unchallenged
today in reproductive medicine.
He further modified his rapid assay method to enable urinary
oestrogen to be measured during pregnancy which was used to
great effect by obstetricians as a test of placental function
and fetal well-being during pregnancy.
During a sabbatical year in 1970, Brown gained a D.Sc. from
the University of Edinburgh and delivered 63 lectures and
demonstrations in Europe and the USA.
Notwithstanding the advent of radioimmunoassay, the laboratory
continued to be world renowned for its urinary assays and
attracted large contracts, principally from Harvard University
for studying risk factors in breast cancer and from Family
Health International for studying the return of fertility
during breast feeding. The work with Harvard won the Prix
Antoine Lacassagne from Paris as the most important contribution
to the study of breast cancer for that year.
In 1971 he was given a Personal Chair in the Department of
Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Melbourne
and was a member of the IVF team led by Carl Wood. His work
and understanding of ovarian function has been linked to the
development of the early techniques for egg pick up in IVF
and were used in the first successful IVF pregnancy in Britain.
Brown retired from the University in 1985 and was accorded
the title of Emeritus Professor. Nonetheless he continued
to work in the field. He had established in 1962, a close
working and personal relationship with Drs John and Lyn Billings
who developed the concept of fertility recognition through
the changes in cervical mucus secretion, forming the basis
of Natural Family Planning. He validated their findings and
continued to work closely with them especially in his latter
years when he developed the Home Ovarian Monitor - a kit that
can be easily used at home even by those without any laboratory
training, to check their hormonal status. This was a quantum
leap from his early methods where one fully trained worker
could do only 10 assays per week! Working with the Billings,
the availability, simplicity and low cost of this facility
has enabled him to study literally hundreds of thousands of
cycles in women in various stages of their reproductive lives
and develop a theory of ovarian function which takes account
of these findings.
Right up to the time of his death Brown continued to work
on various scientific projects and was involved with the World
Health Organisation's Special Programme of Research in Human
Perhaps his professional life could best be summed up by a
closing editorial comment made in 2003 in response to a letter
he had published in Fertility and Sterility, the Journal of
the American Society for Reproductive Medicine:
"...In these days of hype, grossness and glitz, Dr Brown
is a model of scientific practice who is even more imposing
by the low profile that he has been able to keep over the
last two decades. Perhaps these are the ideals and values
for which we need to renew our subscription."
McDonough, P. Fertility and Sterility 2003; 80, (3): 677-678
James Brown is survived by his wife Wendy and their four children.
Prizes and awards
1958 American Cancer Society Fellowship
1970 Runner-up in award for having made the most important
contribution in endocrinology in the British Commonwealth
1978 Senior Organon Prize (joint winner with Henry Burger)
1981 Lecture Laurentian Hormone Conference USA
1981 Fellow (Ad Eundem) Royal Australian and New Zealand College
Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
1986 Prix Antione Lacassagne, Paris, in conjunction with Harvard
2003 Member of the Order of Australia (AM) "for service
research into women's health
and reproductive issues and the development of the Home Ovarian
Dad as a family man
The family from NZ has sent a synopsis of Dad’s childhood
and life in New Zealand.
Jim was born in Waiuku where his father was the manager of
a dairy factory. He was the third of five children born to
James and Stella Brown. The family then shifted to Hamilton
where Jim attended Forest Lake Primary School and Hamilton
High School, where he specialized in science.
I can remember his secondary school headmaster saying that
Jim would never be any more than a rubbish man!
Jim used to bring things home from the lab i.e. test tubes
and chemicals so he could do experiments in the washhouse.
Mum was always finding things in the oven drying out and I
can recall an experiment with a tin and some gun powder which
exploded and cut my arm. My mum fixed me up, let out her wrath
at Jim and left him to fix bandage himself up. I seemed to
be the one who always suffered his experiments.
Our dad died suddenly when Jim was 15 and he took on the
role of male of the house, with help from elder sister Pam.
At that stage he was a boy of many skills – pruning
the large orchards, cutting the hedges, building an apple
shed and any mechanical repairs needed.
I remember he built a large windmill out of sheet metal and
a bicycle wheel. This was mounted onto the garage to charge
car batteries so I could have a light in my bedroom. The garage
used to vibrate when the wind was blowing strong causing the
neighbours, and family, to complain about the noise.
Jim left school and moved to Auckland to attend Auckland
University where he gained a BSc and MSc. He sometimes used
to bike home to Hamilton on a Friday evening from Auckland
after university (a distance of approx 80 miles) to spend
the weekend gardening and doing household maintenance on their
¾ acre section. During the varsity holidays he would
work in the butter factory making butter boxes, as well as
haymaking in the local area, to get money to live in Auckland
for his studies.
He left New Zealand at the end of the war to study in Edinburgh
and then moved to Australia with Wendy, raising his family,
occasionally bringing the family over to NZ for visits.
I never really understood a lot of what Jim’s work
entailed but we were all proud of you.
This was compiled by his sister Rosemary, the last surviving
The family in New Zealand sends their condolences for the
loss of a loved brother and uncle. They will all treasure
the moments he have shared with them over the years. Similarly
the extended family in Scotland mourns his death.
Dad as a man of the outdoors and a man of practical skills
Dad taught us to glorify living in the world.
His world was not the trappings of human commerce but the
one that God created. He succumbed to the thought of the warm
sun and moist earth. He strove to unlock its mysteries by
excelling in carpentry, glass blowing, robotics and creating
new substances. He delighted us by building houses, toy steam
engines and new strains of lettuce. And he loved the mountains
and the beach. To follow his skinny legs almost overwhelmed
by an enormous pack and to hear his laugh around a camp fire
was the embodiment of goodness.
(daughter) : Dad as a man of wisdom and a teacher
Dad was a humble genius who lived life based on Christ. He
taught us as much by example as by patient explanation. For
him nothing was impossible and all challenges were met head
on, broken down to basic building blocks and then built up
by applying well founded principles.
With this in mind, poor Mum had to put up with the same patched
up washing machine for over 40 years. It was finally put to
rest when the flames from the motor were considered large
enough to be alarming. Dad made us laugh often and had no
concern for outward appearances. There’s the time when
the only protective clothing he could find was his 10 year
old grandson’s wetsuit, a pair of gumboots and a large
shapeless hat which he squeezed into in order to spray a few
weeds with “round up”. And the tale of how he
bought Mum and Dad’s first car, the Wolseley into the
country as hand luggage because it wasn’t considered
to be worth very much.
The list could go on.
Dad’s deep love for Mum and commitment to their relationship
in God has given us all a great foundation on which to base
our own lives. Although his encyclopaedia like knowledge may
no longer be there to readily tap into we all carry within
us the basic units he taught us with which to live our own
lives – love of God and our fellow man.
James (son) :
I am to honour the spiritual side of my father.
Dad’s faith was core to who he was. Dad’s faith
was based on what he experienced rather than what someone
else told him to believe. Dad experienced God in many things.
His life was in one of those thin spaces where the concrete
and the metaphysical are very close. A sense of God was ever
present for Dad.
Dad experienced God as an intentional meaning to life. He
had a deep sense of the purposefulness to life. He experienced
God in his scientific exploration. A reaction sometimes to
my father’s faith was ‘how can a scientist believe
in God’. Dad’s journey of research reinforced
his wonderment at creation and God within it. He in fact often
commented on the opportunity of science turning its method
to exploration of God.
Dad experienced God as active. He felt deeply blessed by
God in his marriage to Mum, and in the gift of his family.
In his research he embraced spontaneous inspiration as fundamental
to his scientific enquiry and saw this as coming from God
– he referred to this as ‘St. Michael’.
Dad had a very powerful spiritual experience during a period
in his life of extreme loss and aloneness. During this time
he was sustained by an overwhelming experience of the care
of God for him. Part of this was a profound experience of
a visitation by Christ.
Dad also experienced the dark night of the soul. This was
his experience after his coronary artery bypass surgery.
Dad was always willing to share his faith with us though
he never had any expectation that our experience should be
anything but our own. When we were young, we each had the
privilege of Dad lying down with us before going to sleep
to reflect and pray on the day.
Dad modelled creative and uninhibited enquiry. Conversations
with Dad about the enigma of life have been a large feature
of my relationship with him. He constantly reflected on what
was real to him. Saturday week ago, in talking about the prospect
of death, he shared that ‘the closer death is the less
appealing it becomes’. It was a very ‘Dad Comment’.
Dad has been faithful man of the church. He has been committed
in his attendance, he has been generous in his time and gifting
and he has provided many years of unassuming leadership. There
are many who have been encouraged by his visits. On the lighter
side, he has a great reputation for taking sermons in subliminally.
He must have snoozed through a thousand sermons, and then
been able to offer some profound reflection on the sermon
Dad/Jim, we are so grateful to have had you in our lives,
we will miss you.
A prayer written
by Ruth (daughter-in-law) and recited by Grace and Hannah
We give thanks for a long life lived well,
For diligence and loyalty,
Strength, endurance and skill
deep and abiding love,
For gentle amusement at idiosyncrasies both large and small
a life that followed an arduous, sometimes lonely path,
the quiet, dogged and untiring search for truth.
For a brilliant mind able to discern and describe your grand
This life was Jim Brown’s and we are grateful for his
We give thanks for a steadfast faith;
A questioning challenging faith,
A faith that stepped forward into the unknown.
We pray for Jim’s safe passage.
And now Lord, we pray those who remain.
Farewells hurt. Loss is lonely.
There is an empty chair at the table.
We toss and turn through the long dark night.
Message from Directors of WOOMB
Dear Billings World Wide Family,
Today we have the sad duty to inform you of the death, on Saturday the 31st of October 2009, of our good friend Emeritus Professor James Boyer Brown MSc NZ, MSc Melb, DSc Edin, PhD, FRANZCOG, aged 90 after a short illness.
Born 7 October 1919 in New Zealand and educated at Auckland University College (MSc), Jim subsequently travelled to Scotland where he studied at Edinburgh University (PhD, DSc). He worked in Scotland as a Biochemist (1940-44) before returning to New Zealand to work as a Clinical Biochemist for the Auckland Hospital Board 1944-49 and as Assistant Director, Clinical Endocrinology Research Unit, Medical Research Council, University of Edinburgh 1958-62.
Jim came to Melbourne in 1962 and worked as First Assistant Endocrinologist, University of Melbourne 1962-71. He was subsequently awarded a Personal Chair as Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 1972-84, and continued as Senior Associate and Emeritus Professor from 1985 until his death.
In the 1960s he began work with Drs John and Evelyn Billings on the hormonal verification of the Billings Ovulation Method™ of natural fertility regulation. They maintained a close working relationship and friendship for the remainder of their lives.
Jim Brown invented the Ovarian Hormone Monitor, a DIY machine which revolutionized the performance of laboratory-standard assays of oestrogen and progesterone metabolites in urine enabling accurate identification of the timing of ovulation. This has assisted many women to achieve a desired pregnancy and has also been invaluable in tracking hormones to identify endocrine disorders without the need for regular blood tests.
Please keep his wife Wendy and their four children in your prayers.
Kerry Bourke, Joan Clements, Marian Corkill, Marie Marshell
Directors of WOOMB International