Fanfare for the uncommon man

You would have quickly warmed to Guy, an old friend and colleague, whose funeral I attended today. For those of you that knew Guy, here are some of my reflections on a side of him you may not have seen. For those who didn’t, let these serve as an introduction to a man I think you would have liked. An exceptional man. An uncommon man. Three of us – an anaesthetist, myself and a surgeon – delivered eulogies at today’s funeral. The following are my reflections as spoken:


I probably knew Guy from a different perspective. Whereas many of you will know him as a clinical colleague, I knew Guy as a research scientist. A small difference you might think but perhaps a telling one.

I think there is a world of difference between science and medicine. Medicine trades in confidence, in certainties and in answers. That’s medicine. But it’s not science. The currency of science is doubt, introspection and questions. And to be good at one does not necessarily make you a skilled practitioner of the other. And yet the very best of medical science exists at that interface. Others can speak of Guy’s clinical acumen but I would like to say a few words of him as a scientist.

For a decade or so I ran a research laboratory in the Anaesthetics Unit at the London Hospital. Guy joined the group around 2001 to do research on the biochemistry of head injury – a clinical problem addressed in a scientific way. And for the several years that I knew him, he brought a clinical perspective to that science, staring down the microscope but always asking how  what he saw was relevant, how it would be meaningful to patients. And he asked the same of his clinical colleagues. How could his research in the laboratory be of most benefit?

But Guy was no dull dry academic. Guy brought enthusiasm to the research. I had one golden rule in my laboratory – that nobody was to ask me serious scientific questions until I’d had my first coffee of the morning. Only then was I available to discuss science. Guy had no time for  such constraints Many was the time he would greet me in the morning with two cups, a cafetiere of hot coffee and beaming smile. Who could resist?

Guy brought commitment to his work as well. On his desk in the laboratory was a small post-it note with a quotation. “Perfection is unattainable. But if you chase perfection, you can catch excellence”.  By V. Lombardi. I  asked him who Lombardi was, expecting perhaps a 17th-century Italian philosopher. He laughed. “No” he said, “head coach of the Green Bay Packers”.

Certainly I could speak of his kindness, of his humanity and generosity – very human characteristics and expressed in full in his own personality.  I could tell you stories about lions and tabby cats, of long drives over the North Yorkshire Moors, of getting lost in Paris, of his fondness for the Goon show. All part of Guy’s time in the laboratory. But I think when you come to sum up a life, it goes beyond their own actions. It extends into the actions and thoughts of others. Are there things that we do differently or   ways in which we think differently because we knew Guy? I think there are. And I think Guy lives on in those thoughts and actions.

To quote a line from Blade Runner, one of his favourite science-fiction films, “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long”.