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Shock at sudden death of cancer research pioneer

By David Young

Queen's University Vice-Chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston - who revolutionised treatment of cancer in Northern Ireland - has died.

The respected academic was 59 and had been involved in setting up the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at the Belfast university.

The shock news came in an email to staff yesterday afternoon. It is believed he had been in Donegal at the time.

In a statement, the Belfast university said it was "with a deep sense of shock" that it announced "the untimely and sudden death of our Vice-Chancellor".

"We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to his wife Iseult, their four boys Seamus, Eoghan, Niall and Ruairi, and the wider family circle at this desperately sad time."

Prof Johnston, a native of Londonderry, took over the reins as Vice-Chancellor in 2014.

He first joined Queen's in 1996 as Professor of Oncology.

Last night, tributes were paid to the former St Columb's College pupil, led by his friend Professor Hugh McKenna of Ulster University. "I was honoured to know him and I greatly admired and respected him; he will be sorely missed," he said. "May the wonderful legacy he has left be passed on through generations.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to Iseult and their boys."

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had been "shocked and saddened" to learn of Dr Johnston's death. She added: "The work that will continue at Queen's on cancer research will be a legacy to Patrick and an inspiration to many others who will follow behind him. That work can be the greatest tribute to someone whose career was dedicated to the benefit of others."

Prof Paddy Nixon, Vice-Chancellor of Ulster University, said: "I am shocked and extremely saddened to learn that Professor Patrick Johnston has passed away suddenly. My thoughts and sympathies are with his wife and children at this time."

Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir said Prof Johnston had been "in sparkling form" on Tuesday as he delivered "a powerful and stirring address" to civic leaders in Belfast City Hall.

"His loss will be keenly felt also by all those who admired his determination to find a cure for cancer and who respected his decision to return to Belfast to lead the Centre for Cancer Research," he added.

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