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Obituary: Dr John Shoesmith

Members will be very sorry to learn of the death, on 6 February 2004, of Dr John Shoesmith, former Senior Lecturer in the Department of Microbiology.

John Shoesmith completed a first degree in Organic Chemistry, graduating from the University of Manchester in 1952. In a change of direction which was to determine the course of his entire academic career, he then turned to Bacteriology and completed a PhD, awarded in 1955, on the bacterium responsible for anthrax. Awarded the Robert Angus Smith Scholarship by the University and a Junior Fellowship by the Agricultural Research Council, he remained at Manchester until 1959, undertaking research on bacterial motility. In 1960, John moved to Guys Hospital Medical School, where he worked on the mechanisms by which various agents, including heat, ethylene oxide and gamma irradiation sterilization, destroy bacteria.

Appointed a Lecturer in the then Department of Bacteriology (later Microbiology) at Leeds in 1963 a move prompted at least in part by the presence of his fiance in Harrogate John pursued his earlier research interests and also became absorbed in studies of the physiology of anaerobic micro-organisms, for which work he received support from the Medical Research Council.

Over the course of his career, he was the co-author of a series of articles published in journals including The Lancet, the Proceedings of the Society for General Microbiology and Gut. A book, Anaerobic bacteria, written jointly with two Leeds colleagues, Professor Keith Holland and Dr Jeremy Knapp, was published in 1987.

Promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1973, the breadth of Johns knowledge and understanding of microbiology was such that his advice was eagerly sought by students. Writing in the University Review at the time of Johns retirement, his friend and colleague, Keith Holland, observed that new PhD students to the Department soon became aware that the fount of knowledge was in Johns office. All his final year project students and PhD students were fully appreciative of his keen scientific mind, his eye for detail and his innovative approaches to solving technical problems. They all received an admirable training.

Johns capacity for innovation was also amply demonstrated in his approach to teaching, where he pioneered various developments including the preparation of videotapes of microscopy demonstrations. Most notable, however, was his prescience in recognising the impact that information technology would have on the curriculum and also on the general running of the Department.

John was the prime mover in ensuring that the necessary infrastructure was put in place to take advantage of what IT had to offer; in his retirement appreciation, Keith Holland commented it is to his credit that the oldest member of the Department leads us into the most modern of technologies.

Johns dedication to the welfare of the Department, and his readiness to assume the most exacting tasks in pursuit of this, were never better demonstrated than in the work he undertook when, at the end of the 1970s, Microbiology was allocated new accommodation in the Old Medical School. As planning liaison officer for the project, John was for several years intimately and extensively involved in design, equipment and safety matters, and in constant touch with architects, consultants and Estates staff.

Such was his commitment to securing a functional and pleasant working environment, that he agreed to retain his responsibilities for the project during what was ostensibly a year of study leave in 1980-81. In 1989, John took on a similar role when Virology joined the rest of the Department in the Old Medical School.

John was also for many years an outstandingly successful Departmental Safety Officer, ensuring that rapidly evolving safety legislation was smoothly incorporated into the work of the Department.

His professional knowledge was held in the highest regard, one indication of this being his nomination by the Society for General Microbiology to join the committee of the British Standards Institute engaged on specifying a standard for laboratory autoclaves. Johns microbiological expertise also benefited the NHS. Holding an honorary contract with the local Health Authority as a scientist, he served on the Infection Control Committee at the Leeds General Infirmary and provided extensive advice on disinfection and sterilization methods and the avoidance of cross-infection.

Having served the University for thirty-two years, John retired in September 1995.

The funeral service will be held at 11.30 a.m. on Monday, 16 February 2004 at St Giles Church, Church Hill, Bramhope, Leeds 16. Family flowers only, please; donations in memory of John may be made to The Friends of the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Unit, Leeds General Infirmary.

As a mark of respect, the flag on the Parkinson Building will be flown at half-mast on Monday next.

Published: 11 February 2004