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Tributes to Queen's University professor Patrick Johnston who has died suddenly

By Claire Williamson

Queen's University Belfast's Vice-Chancellor Patrick Johnston has died suddenly.

The news of his death came in an email to staff from the university's registrar, James O'Kane on Sunday afternoon.

Professor Johnston's cause of death has not yet been revealed. Queen's University has said more information will be made available.

Obituary: Prof Patrick Johnston - a great mind whose work saved lives 

In a statement the Queen's University said: "It is, with a deep sense of shock and loss, that I have to announce the untimely and sudden death of our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston, earlier today.

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

"We will provide further updates in due course."

QUB academic and green party councillor John Barry said the news would come as a shock to staff at the Russell group university.

He said: "He was our first locally based Vice-Chancellor in quite some time - and was extremely youthful and energetic.  It's a complete shock."

His loss will be felt not just at home here in Northern Ireland but right around the world where he was hugely respected. DUP leader Arlene Foster

Linda Brown, Director of the Institute of Directors Northern Ireland, said: “My thoughts and sympathies, and those of everyone at the Institute of Directors, are with Professor Patrick Johnston’s family following his untimely death.

“As a valued member of the IoD, Professor Johnston made a major contribution to the organisation both in terms of attending and speaking at events over recent years.

“Although Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast for a relatively short time, his legacy will be felt at the institution for many years to come.

“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.”

The SDLP's Dr Alasdair McDonnell paid tribute to the "powerful figure" and said he was deeply saddened by news of Professor Johnston's death.

He said: "I am deeply saddened to hear the news of the untimely death of Professor Paddy Johnston. His death is a terrible loss to Queen’s University, cancer research and Northern Ireland. 

“Professor Johnston was a powerful figure, working to find a cure for cancer. One of his greatest achievements is undoubtedly leading the establishment of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology in Belfast.

“I express my deepest sympathies and condolences to his family and QUB colleagues at this difficult time.”

UUP MLA Alan Chambers said: "Many will remember Patrick particularly for his work in leading the establishment of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology.

"For his tireless work in this field we are indebted to him."

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. Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir

Professor Johnston from Londonderry was the first person to be appointed President and Vice-Chancellor from within the staff of Queen’s since the appointment of Sir Peter Froggatt in 1976.

Professor Johnston was regarded as one of the world's leading cancer researchers.

He joined Queen’s University in 1996 as Professor of Oncology, later leading the establishment of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology.

Since then CCRCB has revolutionised cancer treatment in Northern Ireland and further afield. It now has 250 researchers from all over the world and was designated a Cancer Research UK Centre in 2009.

Until taking up the post of President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s in March 2014, Professor Johnston was Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences where he led the foundation of a new international Medical School and Institute of Health Sciences.

His own research focus over 25 years has been on the understanding of mechanisms of drug resistance to therapeutic agents.

This resulted in a number of prestigious landmark publications, more than 20 patents and the award of grants of £95m from research and philanthropic bodies including Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council, Atlantic Philanthropies, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the National Institute of Health.

In 2012 he received a Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Anniversary Prize from Her Majesty The Queen for the University-led reorganisation of cancer care in Northern Ireland.

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