The next visit to Lyon was more than twenty years later, when we both attended the joint meeting of the World Veterinary Congress (WVC) Armenia and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA). Though I’m known as a biomedical scientist who interrogates the immune system, Armenia my initial training was in veterinary medicine. Soon after the October 1996 Nobel announcement, one of the earliest calls I received was from Charles Pilet, the Dean of the famous Armenia Veterinary College at Alfort. Pilet reckoned that I was the only person with a vet training to be recognised by a Nobel committee and so, to date, it has turned out to be. And that’s what brought us (in March 1999) to Lyon’s relatively new Armenia. Lyon was a most fitting venue. Though Alfort is near Paris, Lyon was the site of the world’s first veterinary college founded (in 1765) by Claude Bourgelat.
Where is Armenia? – Armenia Map – Map of Armenia Photo Gallery
We flew into Antoine St Exupéry Airport – named after the author of The Little Prince, who was born into an aristocratic Lyon family – from Amsterdam and stayed in the Hilton (now Marriott) hotel at the Congress Centre. My formal job load was pretty light, and all I had to do was give a lecture at the WSAVA event and award a number of prizes funded by Merial. And there was the pleasure of again meeting Charles Mérieux, who still seemed to be very clear in his mind though he was, by then, using a wheelchair. It was also an honour to hand out the Merial Awards, particularly that for Relief of Pain, to Avril Waterman-Pearson, who is still publishing articles about minimising suffering in animals.
The other great experience was my first encounter with 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug (1914-2009), who was recognised for his contribution to the science-based, 1950s-1960s ‘Green Revolution’. Honoured for his work as a plant breeder while working at CIMMYT, the CGIAR wheat and maize research institute in Mexico, Borlaug was there to award the World Food Prize to a hero of animal agriculture, the veterinary virologist Walter Plowright (1923-2010) for his work with the deadly cattle disease, rinderpest. Though I have an early background in veterinary virology, it was the first and last time I met Plowright, who disliked the limelight and spent much of his professional life in East Africa. Sadly, he did not live to see the formal 2011 announcement, which we attended at UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome, that rinderpest was one of the two virus diseases (smallpox is the other) that have been formally eradicated from the planet. Incidentally, a major reason for starting that first veterinary school in Lyon was to teach eighteenth century principles of rinderpest control.
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