Obituary: Emeritus Professor Michael Gleeson Taylor 1926-2006

22 February 2006

The University of Sydney and the Faculty of Medicine have lost one of their most distinguished members with the death of Emeritus Professor Michael G. Taylor on 10 January 2006.


Michael Taylor, a medical graduate of the University of Adelaide, was appointed Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physiology in 1960 and became Professor in 1961.  He retained the title until his retirement in 1991 when he was awarded an Emeritus Professorship.  From 1969 until 1973 he was Chairman of the Professorial Board, and from 1975 to 1991 he was Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
Prior to coming to Sydney Michael had obtained an MD at the University of Adelaide in 1954.  He then went to London on a CJ Martin Fellowship and worked at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School with Donald McDonald.  This research earned him a PhD in 1959 in the area of cardiovascular physiology.  From his earliest years he had shown exceptional mathematical ability and this he applied to problems in haemodynamics, first at Bart’s, and later at Sydney.  This work of Michael is first-class and of enduring quality.   Perhaps the best indication of Michael’s talent and early achievements in the field of haemodynamics is the following quotation from the Acknowledgements section in the first (1960) edition of “Blood Flow in Arteries” by Donald McDonald:

“Taylor, with a training in medicine and physiological research has also a passion for mathematics such that he is technically the equal of many professionals in this field.  If I do not here sufficiently express my admiration and gratitude for his contribution to this work, it is only because, while we are exhorted to speak only good of the dead, it is deemed fulsome (or at least un-English) to speak too well of the living – especially one’s close friends.  Let it suffice to say that the organisation of the ideas on wave reflection and arterial input impedance (the chapters in the latter part of this book) are almost entirely due to discussions with him.”

Donald McDonald is credited with the practical introduction of harmonic analysis into arterial hemodynamics.  His interest was in arterial segments and pressure gradients over short lengths of artery.  Michael expanded this limited approach to the whole vascular bed, then to the whole vascular tree, explaining thereby the influence of wave reflections, and neurohumoral control.  He expanded Fourier analysis with regular heart rate to frequency spectrum analysis over a wide range of frequencies and used his formidable “passion for mathematics” to model vascular beds and to explain the relationship between blood pressure and blood flow in a wide range of species.   He was also a pioneer in applying methods of spectral analysis in the field of neural control of the circulation.  Many of Michael’s former students have gone on to make major contributions in the fields of haemodynamics, cardiovascular control and clinical medicine.
Michael was an extremely kind, generous and tolerant person.  On one occasion a student, working in the laboratory above his office, allowed the sink to overflow with the result that a large quantity of water cascaded down the walls of Michael’s office and created an unholy mess.   Most people would have hit the roof.  The strongest reaction from Michael was his remark “She didn’t even apologise”.
Michael was always gentlemanly and he expected others to behave in the same way.  The period that he was Chairman of the Professorial Board coincided with a period of considerable student unrest.  During this difficult period, he demonstrated tolerance and courtesy, but found it difficult to understand why the same qualities were not always shown to him and others by aggressive academics and students.

Michael married Mary Scott, herself an esteemed physiologist, in 1967 and they set up house in Hunter’s Hill.   They soon established a reputation for gracious hospitality and eclectic entertaining.  Michael was as much at home in the Arts scene as in the Medical and Scientific arenas; he had a passion for literature and languages and had won the Tennyson Prize for Poetry in Adelaide.  At the Taylors’ parties you never knew whom you would speak to next; it might be a novelist, a chemist, or a music critic.  This tradition continued when the couple moved to Burradoo (near Bowral) in 1997.

Michael had an extraordinary range of interests.  He played the piano and even composed an opera, which had a performance, albeit by an amateur group.  He built a harpsichord from a kit and played this.  He learned pottery.  Some members of Faculty will remember the Taylors’ pottery parties where hospitality was combined with displays of Michael’s creations which were for sale but at very modest prices.  Many of us are proud possessors of a ‘Taylor’ pot, a constant reminder of his skill and hospitality.  In later life Michael took up Chinese brush-painting and calligraphy.

Michael Taylor leaves an indelible mark on his many students, colleagues and friends.   All of us will remember Michael as a very compassionate, gentle, extremely gifted and very humorous person, and he will be greatly missed.

William Burke
Roger Dampney
Michael O’Rourke

23 January, 2006

[Emeritus Professor Burke was a colleague of Professor Michael Taylor in the Department of Physiology throughout his tenure.  Professors Dampney and O’Rourke were PhD students of Professor Taylor.  The authors thank Mr David Coffey, Michael’s cousin, for his help in writing this obituary.]


A Memorial Ceremony for Emeritus Prof Taylor will be held in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney on Monday 10 April 2006 at 10am.