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philip robinson

Philip A Robinson, BSc, PhD

The following tribute has been written by Dr Robinson’s close colleagues, family and friends.

Dr Philip Robinson, Reader in Molecular Medicine, died on the 19th August 2012, aged 57, after a year and a half long illness, that he bore with remarkable – though entirely characteristic – courage and good humour.

Phil Robinson lived most of his life in his native city of Bradford. He was born on the 29th March 1955, and as a boy attended Bradford Grammar School, where he displayed an early aptitude for science and mathematics. He was also an accomplished swimmer, and competed in this sport nationally.

On leaving school, Phil went to read biochemistry at the University of Birmingham, and then after graduation worked for five years as a senior scientific officer for Roche Pharmaceuticals in Hertfordshire, investigating the prevention of free radical damage in rheumatoid arthritis and the use of elastase inhibitors in treatment of emphysema. In 1981, he moved to the University of Manchester to work under the supervision of Dr Geoffrey Hammond, receiving a PhD in 1984 for his work on human corticosteroid-binding globulin.

From 1984 to 1987, Phil worked at St George’s Hospital Medical School with Professor Brian Anderton, where his long-term interest in the biochemistry of neurodegenerative conditions was kindled. Collaborative links that he forged at that time with colleagues in London remained active for the rest of his life.

Returning to Yorkshire in 1987, Phil became a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, initially within the Dental Institute. In 1992 he joined the newly established Molecular Medicine Unit on the St James’s campus, where his talents and long practical experience in biochemical and molecular biological methods became linch-pins of the success of the new Unit. Phil became a particular expert in the use of immunological reagents for expression-based cDNA cloning, and pioneered the use of differential display cloning and yeast two-hybrid analysis, methodological advances that many colleagues counted themselves fortunate to benefit from. Phil’s research successes led to his promotion to Reader in 2001, an achievement of which he was justly proud, and which he always regarded as superior to the personal chair that his colleagues were in no doubt he deserved.

Tragedy also struck at this time, however, when Phil’s dear wife Sylvia died suddenly, leaving him to care for their three children, Nicola, Claire and Ben. While most would have found it impossible to discharge the resulting family responsibilities without compromising academic performance, nothing could have been farther from the truth in Phil’s case. With his characteristic quiet Yorkshire determination, he put his heart and soul into work and family alike, with an outcome, on both fronts, that any would be proud of.

In addition to his own research activity, which yielded more than 90 peer-reviewed publications, Phil made an immense and absolutely indispensible wider contribution to academic life. Notably, over many years, he shouldered the thankless task of overseeing compliance with genetic manipulation (GMAG) regulations. He also gave great service as postgraduate tutor, bringing his characteristic good humour and common sense to many difficult situations. As a result, large numbers of young scientists, in addition to the 20 or so research students that Phil himself supervised, owe him a debt of gratitude.

All of these activities, and many more too numerous to mention, made Phil Robinson a widely known and universally popular member of the University staff. He was generous of his own time and expertise, so that a great many academics owe their own successes in no small measure to the advice he offered freely. He supported many students and colleagues through difficult times, and his strength and good nature were never lacking.

The photograph above exemplifies Phil’s remarkable character. It was taken on Kilnsey Moor in his beloved Yorkshire Dales, on 26th March 2011. Two days earlier, he had received the news of his disseminated prostate cancer. Phil Robinson was never one to let things get him down.

The funeral service has been held.