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Georgina Jolliffe

Georgina Jolliffe 1923–2010

Georgina Jolliffe, a much loved lecturer and noted botanical microscopist, passed away due to an abdominal hemorrhage on July 1, 2010. She was 86 years of age.

Affectionately known by family and friends as “Georgie,” Jolliffe was a favored lecturer of many pharmacy students at Chelsea College, University of London. One of her former students, Amala Raman-Soumyanath, PhD, pharmacognosist and associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University, fondly noted: “For undergraduates away from home for the first time, Dr. Jolliffe was a warm and approachable tutor, with a reassuring sense of humor.”

Dr. Jolliffe was born Georgina Henry in Aberdeen, Scotland on October 25, 1923. She studied pharmacy and pharmacognosy at Chelsea College (London University), which is now King’s College London, and graduated in 1952. According to her husband, Geoffrey Jolliffe, PhD, she was always interested in plants and their anatomy and, naturally, the microscope was a help in understanding the basic structure of plant materials.

Georgina and her husband Geoffrey met at the chemistry bench, as undergraduate students studying for the bachelor’s of pharmacy. They were arranged in alphabetical order—she under her maiden name, Henry, and he as Jolliffe. According to Geoffrey, “I have always had problems with the interpretation of color, and performing titrations using Methyl Orange was, for me, extremely difficult. I would hold up the conical flask used for titrations and ask Georgie ‘has it gone yet?’ Eventually I learned how to use that particular indictor by recognizing a change in brightness. I gradually got to know that Georgie trained as a nurse at Westminster Hospital and, during the war, went down to Basingstoke to help with the treatment of service personnel.” Several years later, the two began what would be a 55-year professional collaboration and marriage.

Georgie obtained her PhD in 1968 in the field of thin layer chromatography (TLC) analysis of amino acids in seeds. As well as being a stalwart of pharmacognosy teaching at Chelsea, Georgie, with her husband, played a part in the development of pharmacy education in Nigeria, spending some time teaching in the University of Ife in Ibadan in the early 1970s. Georgie became an expert in both standard light and electron microscopy, identifying powdered herbal drugs and many other materials. She served on many committees, applying her microscopy skills both in the United Kingdom and overseas.

Dr. Jolliffe taught botanical microscopy within the pharmacognosy element of the pharmacy course. According to Dr. Soumyanath, “We learnt in detail from her the different cells and tissues found in medicinal plant parts and how their variations could serve as a means of identifying plant material, even in dry powder form. To keep us alert in class, she used to provide meticulously hand-drawn diagrams of the features she was describing…but not notes. We had to leave appropriate spaces in the notes we were taking as she talked and later cut and pasted the pictures in our own spare time. A decade later, when I myself became a pharmacognosy lecturer, I often referred to these notes and diagrams, which I had fortunately preserved.”

The 2 Dr. Jolliffes combined their respective expertise in microscopy and computer programming to create MICROAID, a computer database of plant microscopic features. The presence or absence of diagnostic microscopic features in an unidentified sample of plant material could be entered, and the program would suggest a possible identity. Developed in the 1970s, MICROAID provided characterizations for almost 100 powdered crude drugs and spices, by the presence or absence of 32 microscopy features. This was in the early days of personal computing, and the Jolliffes were awarded a prize for the program by Practical Computing magazine. According to Dr. Soumyanath, “The MICROAID program remained an integral part of pharmacognosy laboratory course long after the Dr. Jolliffes retired, and at a time when much of the detailed microscopy teaching was removed due to curriculum pressures.”

Georgie was neat and meticulous, with an eye for detail, which served her well in the microscopical study of medicinal plant material. However, in common with the general thrust of pharmacognosy at Chelsea at the time, and under the leadership of Georgina’s friend and colleague Professor Joseph Shellard, she embraced newer techniques such as chromatography and became a key player in formulating and teaching the masters program in Pharmaceutical Analysis, which was introduced in the department in 1969. (Ironically, Professor Shellard passed away just 2 weeks before Georgina at the age of 96.)

She was very involved with herbalists and homeopaths in the United Kingdom in the development of quality standards for the homeopathic Mother Tinctures that they were using, as well as supervising PhD students and teaching undergraduates.

She was also well known for her sense of humor and her caring motherly attitude. According to London University Professor of Pharmacy Dr. Peter Houghton, “Although sometimes Georgie could appear to be seriously precise, she was in fact a very pleasant person to know and could interact with a wide range of people.”

Perhaps most telling of Dr. Jolliffe’s character, whenever she would give one of her talks, any fee she received was always sent to the Keech Hospice. Georgina retired from the University of London in 1984 and was able to spend more time doing things she enjoyed.

One of her last contributions to botanical microscopy was acting as a technical editor of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia’s (AHP) soon-to-be published Microscopic Characterizations of Botanical Medicines (CRC Press). According to AHP Executive Director Roy Upton, “Dr. Jolliffe worked with us for a period of almost 4 years reviewing every aspect of the text and providing detailed commentary on the more than 140 microscopic characterizations contained in the Atlas portion of the text. It is perhaps fitting that her last work will have been in the development of the first English-language text to unite classic illustrations of microscopic structures with modern microphotographs of the same structures and tissues. This work will help keep alive one of her passions—botanical microscopy—at a time when worldwide it has been on a steady decline, and now perhaps is on the rise again.” Georgina’s academic excellence coupled with practical experience was a great contribution to the text and, working on it in her 80s, according to husband Geoffrey “was a labour of love.”

Both the personal and professional accolades and remembrances of Georgina Jolliffe were a testimony to a life well lived and well loved by many. According to family members Mary and Richard Jolliffe: “One of her greatest gifts was that, despite being so talented in every part of her life, she made everyone feel her equal however limited their own abilities were. This is rare indeed. She found something positive to encourage people in any situation and was never judgemental.”

One of her friends added, “Whenever we spoke she was always kind enough to give the impression that we were the most important and interesting people that she had ever met for a long time, always the hallmark of a generous spirit and modest high achiever of distinction.”

According to her friends Penelope and Bernard Rapson: “It’s hard to believe that in the midst of life there is death—but there it is—and we can but rejoice that the brief span has brought with it so much pleasure and lasting friendship. It is true that friends can never be said to have passed away until they are last remembered by the people who knew them. Georgie will live long to us all.”

—Geoffrey Jolliffe, Amala Raman-Soumyanath, Peter Houghton, Roy Upton, and a host of Georgina’s friends