Search site


Dr John Dawson

John Dawson

We are very sorry to report the death of Dr John Dawson, who died on 13 April 2006 at the age of 77. Dr Dawson joined the Department of Medical Physics in 1956 and retired as Reader and Acting Head of Department in 1989. All those colleagues and students who knew him during his years in the department remember him with great affection, respect and gratitude.

His friend and colleague, Dr Susan Chesters, has contributed the following obituary:

John took a keen interest in science from an early age and left school in Todmorden at 15 to work for ICI at Blakely. The company encouraged staff to participate in further education, and he gained an Intermediate BSc through evening classes. He went on to graduate in Physics at Manchester University and then, after a further year at ICI, arrived at Leeds, where he obtained a PhD. He enjoyed his time studying in Leeds, including helping to found the University ski club. He then became interested in the application of physics to medicine and took up an MRC Fellowship in the Department of Medical Physics in Leeds. At that time, a new analytical technique, Atomic Absorption Spectrometry (AAS), had been introduced in Australia. John realised its potential for the analysis of biological materials and became one of its foremost pioneers in this country. He set up long-standing collaborations with clinical and biochemical staff and forged links with a number of international firms who provided valuable support. He became deeply involved with the Society for Analytical Chemistry and served on its Council. He organised meetings on behalf of the Society, including a highly successful International Conference in 1969. Following that event, John played a leading part in launching a new publication, Annual Reports on AAS, which he later edited, and a series of Biennial Conferences on AAS. John was a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics, reflecting his interest in both disciplines. His other research interests included the measurement of skin colour, radiochemical analysis and, in later years, the development of photo chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer. He published over 150 scientific papers. His academic achievements were recognised by his appointment as Visiting Professor at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) following his retirement from the University of Leeds.

Many of the colleagues and students who worked with John have paid tribute to the support he gave them in their careers, and he in his turn was always generous in acknowledging their contribution to his work. He was very much a practical physicist, never so happy as when designing and building his own instruments, and he was particularly appreciative of the expertise of technical colleagues. Over the years, in addition to research and teaching, he took on a number of departmental roles, including organising a stimulating seminar programme, overseeing the mechanical workshop and taking responsibility for the financial affairs of the Department. He became a mentor to junior staff and was the person colleagues would turn to for sound advice. However, it was as Acting Head of Department that he made his most significant contribution. The unexpected death in 1983 of the then Head of Department, Professor Roy Parker, left the Department very vulnerable. John took on the role with the aim of ensuring the continuation of Medical Physics as an academic discipline. Not only did he achieve this aim, but he also proved to be an outstandingly successful Head of Department .

John had always planned to take early retirement and in 1989 he was able to do so. His honorary appointment at UMIST enabled him to carry on with his researches and he also had time to pursue his many other interests. With his wife, Joyce, he travelled widely visiting old friends and former colleagues across the world. He found family holidays on the Scilly Isles equally enjoyable. He had always taken part in outdoor activities such as cycling and hill-walking. Memorably, during one snowy winter in Leeds, he introduced members of the Department to the pleasures of skiing. He was also a keen photographer and gardener taking a special interest in the art of bonsai. Sadly, these activities were curtailed by the disabilities he suffered during the final months of his illness. The courage and fortitude he showed during his illness were truly inspirational. He will be remembered by all who knew him as a great scientist and a true gentleman. Our deepest sympathy goes to his widow Joyce and their two children.