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Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, master of St John’s College, Cambridge, dies at 69




Tributes have been paid following the death at 69 of Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, who was the master of St John’s College, Cambridge.

Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, master of St John's College, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, master of St John's College, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, he died on Sunday (September 8, 2019) at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey.

He is survived by his wife, Dr Mary Dobson, their sons, Richard and William, and his beloved dog, Jimbo.

A leading scientist working at the interface of the physical and biological sciences, he was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2018 for his contributions to science and higher education.

As an innovative and prolific chemist, he had more than 800 papers and review articles to his name and played a significant role in advancing global understanding of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

In 2012, he co-founded the Cambridge Centre for Misfolding Diseases and, in September 2018, was part of the Cambridge research team that worked with scientists at Lund University in Sweden to unveil a world first in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease, which could lead to trials of new drugs in two years.

The team developed a new way to target the toxic particles - protein oligomers - that are now agreed to be an underlying cause of the disease.

At the Chemistry of Health building on Union Road, Cambridge, are, from left, Professor Michele Vendruscolo, Professor Sir Christopher Dobson and Professor Tuomas Knowles, following the announcement of a breakthrough in Alzheimer's research in September 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell
At the Chemistry of Health building on Union Road, Cambridge, are, from left, Professor Michele Vendruscolo, Professor Sir Christopher Dobson and Professor Tuomas Knowles, following the announcement of a breakthrough in Alzheimer's research in September 2018. Picture: Keith Heppell

Sir Christopher, known to most people simply as Chris, had been a member of the St John’s community for 18 years.

He was elected to a fellowship in 2001 after moving to Cambridge from the University of Oxford, after accepting the John Humphrey Plummer Professorship of Chemical and Structural Biology.

He became the 44th master of St John’s in 2007 and led the college for 12 years with what it described as "dedication, precision and compassion".

He directed the quincentenary celebrations at which St John’s marked its 500th anniversary, oversaw transformational refurbishment projects across the college estate, and introduced the St John’s studentships.

Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, master of St John's College, Cambridge, with his wife Mary. Picture: Keith Heppell
Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, master of St John's College, Cambridge, with his wife Mary. Picture: Keith Heppell

Dr Frank Salmon, president of St John’s, said: “Chris’s pioneering research investigating the origins of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s will undoubtedly lead to the discovery and introduction of new and effective treatments in the future that will benefit millions of people.

“His commitment to helping others will be an equally inspiring part of his enduring legacy – countless lives and careers were improved by his mentorship, support, advice and influence. In all of this he was supported and encouraged by his wife Lady Dobson.

“At St John’s his commitment to the college was apparent by the remarkable fact that he knew every fellow, student and member of staff by name.

“I’m sure everyone who had the pleasure of knowing Chris will join me in sending our deepest condolences to Mary, Richard and William. Chris was loved by so many and will be hugely missed by us all.”

Retired greyhound Jimbo with his new family, including Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, master of St. John's College, Cambridge
Retired greyhound Jimbo with his new family, including Professor Sir Christopher Dobson, master of St. John's College, Cambridge

The University of Cambridge’s vice-chancellor, Professor Stephen J Toope, said: “Chris’ loss will be felt keenly by St John’s College and by the university, and by those of us who had the enormous good fortune of counting him as a friend and colleague.

“I personally mourn the passing of a profoundly decent and compassionate man of towering academic achievement. My thoughts are with Mary, Richard and William, as well as with the staff, students and fellows of St John’s.”

Sir Christopher earned many honorary degrees, fellowships and prizes, including the 2009 Royal Medal of the Royal Society, of which he had been a prominent fellow since 1996.

The college flag is flying at half-mast in Sir Christopher’s honour and a book of condolence is being placed in the porters’ lodge at the Great Gate entrance to St John’s for people to sign.

There will also be a book of condolence in the chapel, which is open to those who would like to light a candle in remembrance of him.

Details of a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Sir Christopher Dobson, who was master of St John's College, Cambridge, has died at the age of 69
Sir Christopher Dobson, who was master of St John's College, Cambridge, has died at the age of 69

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