My mother, Marion Macleod, who has died aged 86, was an academic microbiologist and medical sociologist. She was also a fine example of the benefits of the postwar policy of opening up higher education to bright students from all backgrounds.
Marion was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, the daughter of Roland Fairman, a coach painter, and his wife, Rhoda (nee Finch), a cleaner. The family lived in a shared terraced house with no bathroom and an outside toilet. Evacuated at the outbreak of the second world war, Marion was sent first to Berwick-upon-Tweed and then to Shap in Cumberland (now Cumbria). On returning to Newcastle, economic pressure forced her to leave school and start work aged 16, as a technician in a bacteriology laboratory at Newcastle University. She continued her school studies at evening class and won a university scholarship.
She graduated in 1952 from Durham University with a double first in botany and bacteriology and took up the post of assistant lecturer in the department of bacteriology, Glasgow University, in 1952 completing her first PhD in 1955.
In 1956, as a Harkness Fellow, Marion went to the US to study bacterial cytology at Harvard medical school and then, from 1957 to 1958, virology at the California Institute of Technology.
During that time she met Norman Macleod, also a Harkness Fellow, and they travelled extensively through the US and Mexico before returning to their academic posts in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1958, and marrying the following year. Marion gave up her full-time academic work while bringing up three children and caring for elderly relatives, but later returned part time as a microbiology lecturer at Napier College, Edinburgh.
After a brief but whirlwind dalliance with politics, as the SDP candidate for Edinburgh Central in the 1983 general election (coming third, with more than 9,000 votes), Marion restarted her academic career, completing a second PhD in medical sociology from Edinburgh University in 1986. She…