Humanists UK mourns Sir James Gowans FRS (1924-2020)

10 April, 2020

Humanists UK is deeply sad to announce the death of its patron, the distinguished medical researcher Sir James Gowans.

James Gowans had a long and notable career in pathology and immunology, receiving many well-deserved awards and honours. His pioneering work in the 1950s on the life cycle of the lymphocyte established that the small lymphocyte continuously recirculated from the blood to the lymph and back again to the blood and that this cell was at the centre of immunological responses. His career included spells as Henry Dale Research Professor of the Royal Society, School of Pathology, University of Oxford, 1962-77, as Director of the Medical Research Council’s Cellular Immunology Research Unit (1963 – 1977), as Secretary of the Medical Research Council, 1977-87, and as Secretary General of the Human Frontier Science Programme Strasbourg (1989-93).

In particular, he oversaw the Medical Research Council’s work in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in its early years, coordinating and contributing immensely to the worldwide response from the scientific community.

James received many awards and honour for his work. He was elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1963. He was appointed CBE in 1971 and knighted in 1982. In addition, he was a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences and the recipient of many honorary doctorates.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We were honoured to count James among our patrons. His research helped us to better understand disease not only so that we may fight it, but also, in the case of AIDS, to challenge stigma and combat bigotry. Society and humanity as a whole are richer for his work.’


Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

Humanists UK has over 170 patrons who support its work in various ways through their expertise and prominence in various fields. Existing patrons include significant figures from the spheres of science, philosophy, human rights activism, politics, the arts, and broadcasting. Alongside its patrons, Humanists UK has a President and a number of Vice Presidents. From January 2019, its President has been scientist and broadcaster Professor Alice Roberts, supported by Vice Presidents Professor Jim Al-Khalili, Shappi Khorsandi, Polly Toynbee, and Professor A C Grayling.