Belfast Telegraph

Tributes flood in for Queen's prof Patrick Johnston who 'put Belfast on research map'

By Michael SheIls McNamee

Leaders from the fields of science, politics and business have spoken of their sorrow at the sudden death of Professor Patrick Johnston, the man who "put Belfast on the global research map".

The President and Vice Chancellor of Queen's University passed away on Sunday at his holiday home in Co Donegal.

He had been a major force in overhauling cancer services in Northern Ireland, and was involved in establishing the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology.

Alongside his work with Queen's University, a number of voices from the business community have spoken out about Prof Johnston's importance in driving investment into scientific research in Northern Ireland.

Prof Johnston had been a non-executive director of the NI Science Park Foundation, the group responsible for developing the science park in Belfast's Titanic Quarter, which has since been rebranded Catalyst Inc.

In a joint statement, chairman Dick Milliken and chief executive Dr Norman Apsley of Catalyst Inc said their "thoughts are with his family at this very sad time".

"He believed that the highest quality of academic medical research could only be achieved close to patients and intimate with the health providers' supply chain," he said.

"Professor Johnston put Belfast on the research map, changed the cancer outcomes for our people and built the beginnings of a local economy bringing these benefits to the world at large. It behoves those of us left behind to remain true to his dream."

These sentiments have been shared by chief executive of Invest NI Alastair Hamilton, who was "shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Professor Paddy Johnston" and expressed his condolences to his wife and family.

He said: "I would also like to pay tribute to the tremendous contribution which Paddy made throughout his career to the betterment of society, not only in Northern Ireland, but globally.

"His ground-breaking research into cancer treatment was, rightly, internationally recognised and played a huge role in showcasing our research capability on a global stage."

Linda Brown, the director of the Institute of Directors business group that Prof Johnson had been a member of, said he had "made a major contribution to the organisation both in terms of attending and speaking at events over recent years".

She continued: "His ambitious plans to raise the university's international appeal and grow income through research showed tremendous vision and leadership, the results of which will make a real difference to the future economic prosperity of Northern Ireland as a whole."

Before returning home to become the chair of Oncology with Queen's University in 1996, he spent 10 years in the US working with the National Cancer Institute, one of the world's largest medical research institutions.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph last year, Prof Johnston said that his return home had been motivated by the goal of creating a "modern cancer programme" in Northern Ireland.

The international significance of his work has been reflected in the tributes pouring in from the scientific community around the globe. In a tribute on Twitter, the Dubai-based Mohammed Bin Rashid University Of Medicine and Health Sciences said that Prof Johnston was a "great man" and that he was "an advocate for education and his imprint is everlasting".

The university added: "We will always be thankful for his kinship."

Dublin City University said in a post on social media that it extended its "deepest condolences to the family, friends & colleagues of Queen's University Belfast Vice-Chancellor Prof Patrick Johnston, on his untimely death".

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