Anne Laura Dorinthea McLaren was one of Britain’s leading scientists in the fields of mammalian reproductive and developmental biology and genetics. She was born on April 26th 1927, the daughter of Henry McLaren, the 2nd Baron Aberconway, and Christabel McNaughten. The family had homes in London and Bodnant, North Wales. She gained a zoology degree at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. During postgraduate years at Oxford, she worked under JBS Haldane, Peter Medawar and Kingsley Sanders, and in 1952 obtained her doctorate on viruses.
In the same year, she married Donald Michie (see separate entry and also Andrew Murray’s piece about both of them below); they worked together at University College London from 1952 to 1955, then at the Royal Veterinary College until 1959. During this period they were interested in the nature versus nurture problem, studying the effect of the maternal environment in mice. This led them to embryo transfer and implantation. This was the period of the cold war and Anne and Donald kept in active contact with scientists in socialist countries. They were both barred from entering the USA; yet, later, Anne’s advice on issues relating to NASA was highly desired.
However, in 1959, Anne and Donald were divorced, although they both moved to Edinburgh. In later years, although their marriage was dissolved, they remained good friends, taking regular holidays with their children, Jonathan, Susan and Caroline, and stepson Chris from Donald’s first marriage.
Anne continued her work in biology at the Institute of Animal Genetics. Her book on the combination of genetically different kinds of tissue, published in 1976, is considered “a classic in the field”. In 1974 she became the director of the Medical Research Council mammalian development unit at UniversityCollegeLondon. It was there that she developed her enduring interest primordial germ cells. She wrote another classic book, this time on the subject in 1980. After retirement from the Medical Research Council in 1992, she became principal research associate at the Welcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, a position she held at the time of her death. During her career she was an author of more than 300 scientific papers.
One of her principal contributions was as a member of the Warnock Committee, which produced a white paper that played a major role in the passage of the 1987 Family Law Reform Act and the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. She served for ten years on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and in the period up to her untimely death had been participating in the discussions on the ethical issues involved in developing embryonic stem cells and the use of therapeutic cloning.
She became known as a fascinating lecturer and had many invitations to speak at meetings all over the world. Her thoughts were always clearly presented in perfectly enunciated English, and she was a `natural’ on television. She interviewed the philosopher Bertrand Russell with ease. She was always concerned that science be explained simply but accurately to the public. In 1975 she was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, in 1986 a fellow of the RoyalCollege of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and in 1993 she was made a DBE. She was also president of the Society for the Study of Fertility, president of the Society of Developmental Biology, president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1993-94, and fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, from 1992 to 1996. She was the first woman to hold office as vice-president and foreign secretary in the more than 300-year-old Royal Society.
Her hospitality was renowned, and many visitors to London stayed in her house. She was an avid football fan, and when any international match was on television it was a waste of time trying to talk to her. Anne remained a member of the CPGB until its dissolution, a loyal and unassuming member of branches in Edinburgh and, later, London, always willing to undertake any ordinary work for the Party and without any sense of the status to which her immense scientific achievements might have made her feel entitled.
At the time of her death she was a member of the European group on ethics that advises the European Commission on the social and ethical implications of new technologies. Among her many awards were the Scientific Medal of the Zoological Society of London (1967), the Pioneer Award of the International Fertility Society (1988, with Donald Michie) and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society (1990).
She died on July 7 2007, aged 80, in a car accident while travelling with Donald Michie from Cambridge to London.
Source: Guardian Tuesday July 10th 2007
Anne MClaren and Donald Michie
– an obituary by Andrew Murray in the Morning Star
"My granddad invented the computer and my granny invented cloning." Few grandchildren could make such a boast, but my daughter Laura’s description of her maternal grandparents is scarcely an exaggeration. It underlines just how much science and society, as well as family, have lost with the death of Donald Michie and Anne McLaren in a car accident on July 7th (2007). The loss is all the more keenly felt because of the fact that these two remarkable scientists were still hard at work, aged 84 and 80 respectively. Both will be remembered primarily for their extraordinary contributions to their particular fields of inquiry, in which they pushed back the frontiers of human understanding considerably.
Donald and Anne were both holders of more honours and distinctions than can possibly be listed here. Yet even a full list – and these were not the things that interested either of them most or even at all – could not capture their essence as scientists.
For both exemplified the engagement of science with society, of knowledge as entwined with social progress at every stage. They both joined the Communist Party during the cold war, in Anne’s case to the outrage of some in her family.
Both visited the Soviet Union many times for professional and personal purposes, giving them sufficient insight to be sceptical of sunshine propaganda but more than sufficient understanding to always remain in sympathy and solidarity with the socialist system. They were avid readers and supporters of the Morning Star all their lives and were active campaigners in the current anti-war movement.
They were unusual scientists in one further respect. Defying the trend of recent generations for academics to specialise in narrower and narrower fields of expertise, their interests and knowledge ranged across the full range of human experience. The spirit of Engels moved within them.
Donald had himself been a classical scholar and an outstanding geneticist before transferring his skills to computer science. My own last conversations with him were about economics and Roman Catholic doctrine, neither of them subjects he would have owned as a speciality but on both of which he formed more lucid opinions than some who do.
Anne was perhaps less inclined to turn a conversation into an intellectual firework display, but her interests and erudition were at least as extensive and there was scarcely a subject on which, when questioned by a student or an inquisitive grandchild, she did not have an informed and dialectical understanding.
The final remarkable aspect of their lives, without which no appreciation can be complete, was their relationship with each other. The bare facts – married in 1952, divorced in 1959, lived together again for some years, a further separation and living together once more at the time of their deaths – cannot do justice to the story.
Throughout all the normal vicissitudes of life and the ups and downs of personal dealings they retained an affection for – indeed, a fascination with – each other, thereby creating a family bound together by love, comradeship and mutual respect as tightly as any could be. Their joy in each other’s company, particularly when they resumed cohabitation following the death of Donald’s beloved third wife Jean Hayes Michie in 2002, was unmistakeable.
It would, of course, be perverse to regard their fatal accident as anything other than tragic, but neither of them living without the other for a while longer could possibly have been as happy as the two of them were together in their final years.
Donald and Anne will be remembered with love as long as their children Susan, Jonathan and Caroline, their grandchildren Jessica, Jack, Laura, Alex, Duncan, Rhona and Cameron and "in-laws" Carolyn Downs, Paul Clyndes and myself have memories. Remembered too by Donald’s son Chris from his first marriage and Chris’s own children Sarah and Miles.
But that will not be the half of it. Lives which integrated such endeavours to enlarge science to solve the problems of the world’s people with work to change society to allow that science to flower unimpeded for the universal good are an imperishable part of the story of our common progress. Humanity stands the taller for lives such as these.
Andrew Murray’s obituary ably corrected a false impression conveyed by the Guardian that these were `merely’ two liberal minded scientists. Controversially, her (and Donald’s) extant and long-lasting Communist leanings were cast aside in the demeaning and distorting phrase: “Politically Anne was a liberal.”
After Murray had set the record straight in the Morning Star, a reader joined in the celebratory mood by writing in to say that even up to her death Anne was a regular helper at the frequent book sales organised by the South Camden Morning Star Supporters Group in aid of the paper. Murray also wrote to the Guardian to correct the misapprehension conveyed:</i>
“Your obituaries of my parents-in-law Donald Michie and Anne McLaren (July 10) do ample justice to their great scientific achievements. However, they also shared a lifelong commitment to socialism: both joined the Communist Party during the cold war, and from the world peace congresses of the 1950s to the recent anti-war demonstrations they were always there, often together.
Donald was for years the Daily Worker’s science correspondent, drawing on his broad-based understanding of the sciences, as well as the Marxism that was always his intellectual template. The politics of solidarity were central to Anne, from helping post-war Yugoslavia build a railway to actively supporting trade union struggles nearer home.
They integrated scientific inquiry with the struggle for social justice – one without the other would have made no sense to them. As they sought to enlarge scientific knowledge, so also they worked to change society to allow that science to flower for the universal good.
They had an extraordinary relationship with each other – a 60-year story of love and friendship that endured all the usual vicissitudes of personal life. Both their world outlook and their personal example are carried forward by their children and grandchildren.”
Sources: Guardian 11th July 2007; Morning Star 10th July 2007; 17th July 2007