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Colin Toothill

Members will be greatly saddened to learn of the death, on 25 April 2005, of Dr Colin Toothill, former Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemical Pathology.

Born in 1928, Colin Toothill began his working life as a laboratory assistant with a firm of wool combers and worsted spinners. Promoted to works chemist in 1950, he remained with the company until the end of 1956. During this period, he obtained his first degree, an external London BSc in Chemistry, the result of part-time and evening study at Bradford Technical College. A brief foray into school teaching at North Manchester Grammar School for Boys ended with his decision to read for an MSc (later upgraded to a PhD) in the Department of Biochemistry at Leeds, where he quickly made his mark as a research student of a very high order.

He successfully applied for a post of Demonstrator in the Department of Chemical Pathology, taking up the appointment in December 1960, was awarded his doctorate, for a thesis on the metabolism of pathogenic fungi, in the following year, and was promoted to Lecturer in 1962. In 1971 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1972.

During the course of a career of over thirty years in the Department, Colin Toothill dedicated himself to teaching, research and NHS service work, to the wider profession of Clinical Biochemistry and to University matters. For much of this time, the Department of Chemical Pathology was responsible for providing a diagnostic biochemical service for patients at the Leeds General Infirmary; its staff worked closely with clinicians to ensure optimal use of investigations and to widen the appreciation of the biochemical bases of disease.

Writing later in the University Review, Dr Toothill's friend and colleague, Dr Bob Oakey, observed that Colin Toothill accepted this challenge wholeheartedly and forged significant relationships of lasting value to patients. Biochemical problems encountered in such work inevitably laid the ground for further investigation. In this way Colin Toothill developed important research programmes in inherited metabolic diseases including phenylketonuria and the porphyrias which led to interests in biochemical haematology and from there to the toxic effects of metals such as lead and aluminiumInterests in toxic metals made him an appropriate choice to direct the Leeds Supraregional Trace Element Laboratory.

His research received support from the Medical Research Council, the Yorkshire Regional Health Authority and the Health and Safety Executive, and he made important contributions to publications in a range of journals, including Clinica Chimica Acta, the British Journal of Anaesthesia, Gut and Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology.

Colin Toothill taught both medical and science students enthusiastically and effectively. These qualities were amply demonstrated in the series of visits he made to the University of Ghana from 1971 onwards, where his contributions to courses in Biochemistry and Chemical Pathology attracted high praise. In his home Department, he was a staunch supporter of the development of MSc courses for northern-based Biochemists and for overseas graduates. On his initiative a Postgraduate Diploma was also introduced. When Professor Roy Stitch died unexpectedly at the end of 1985, Dr Toothill became Acting Head of Department until August 1987. One of his many strengths was in developing and maintaining excellent working relationships with colleagues in many other departments in the Faculty of Medicine.

A measure of the esteem in which he was held by his peers was the frequency of his election as one of the Facultys representatives on Senate, on which he served almost uninterruptedly from 1978 until 1991. He also served as an elected member of the Council; on a broad spectrum of committees, including those concerned with overseas students, public relations and Masterships; and as the Universitys representative on the Governing Body of Rishworth School. Externally, he held office as Treasurer and Meetings Secretary of the Association of Clinical Biochemists, and was an elected member of the Associations national Council. In recognition of his distinguished contributions to his discipline, Dr Toothill was awarded Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists in 1988.

Colin Toothill retired from his post in Chemical Pathology in September 1993. In retirement, he continued to make an active and valued contribution to the work of the University, as Sciences Co-ordinator at the Office of Part-time Education. In this post, which he held up to his death, Colin's professional standing and many contacts across the University made him an effective champion of part-time provision for sciences, and his personal qualities made him a loved and respected colleague. Retirement also offered him the opportunity to pursue his interest in the history of medicine, through the Yorkshire Medical and Dental History Society; at different times, he held all the offices in the Society and became its Chairman in 2003-04.

Dr Toothill is survived by his son, Chris.