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E J Wood 1941-2008: a tribute.

On Sunday 14th December 2008 at the age of 67, Ed Wood passed away from a heart attack suddenly and unexpectedly. The sadness it has engendered in those who knew Ed is enormous, but his was a life that was lived to great purpose. Soft spoken and unassuming, Ed was treasured by many friends and colleagues around the world. He was indefatigable in advancing Biochemical Education as an activity, and generously bestowed his friendship on many. In a world of multiple connections between people, Ed achieved a surfeit of connections and an enormous return of affection from those he dealt with. Ed had the energy, given to few, to be a conscientious leader, guide and mentor in all aspects of his personal and professional life. He was always a great correspondent, with a sense of humour that illuminated the silliness of the administrative pomp he encountered. His rapidly written, neat handwriting with a slight backward slope was always a welcome sight on incoming letters.


Even in the era of electronic mail Ed would make time to send letters by post that conveyed something special to the recipients. Above all, Ed was truly modest in his manners; a modesty that his colleagues knew overlaid a gifted man of singular intellect. Ed lived to work and worked to live. In retirement his pace hardly altered. Ed was always looking forward to his next engagement and particularly to helping students and young scientists in developing countries.

Ed was the most accessible of people and yet intensely private. Few people would know that he played the piano and found relaxation by launching into Bach's Toccata and Fugue with gusto. Looking at Ed, the urbane Oxford DPhil, few would deduce his boyhood times of growing up in modest circumstances in regional England, as the son of a mechanical engineer. More people knew that he was partial to relaxing with a good meal accompanied by red wine or his beloved Tetley's Bitter from his adopted Yorkshire. He was particularly fond of travelling with friends to a small country pub in the Yorkshire Dales, just outside Leeds, to have a few convivial pints of Tetley's. He also treasured time with his family and was fortunate to have an extended family holiday in Turkey in 2008 with his wife Helen, two sons, three grandchildren and other relatives.

Many people are woven into the tapestry of Ed's life as intimate friends and collaborators. Angelo Azzi (IUBMB president) observed that Ed 'had the talent of making little distinction between work and play, labour and leisure, information and recreation; he was always doing both at the same time, thus working with Ed was light and rewarding, indeed a joy.'

For Ed's role in biochemical education, some landmark associations deserve special mention here. When Ed joined the Biochemistry Department at the University of Leeds in 1972, Peter Campbell was the Head of Department. Peter was a singular force in establishing a professional approach to biochemical education within the Biochemical Society (UK), FEBS and the IUB (later IUBMB). Under the auspices of the IUB, Peter launched a newsletter in 1973 that rapidly became the journal Biochemical Education. In 1979, Ed became Editor-in-Chief of Biochemical Education (now Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education; BAMBED), and served in this role for 22 years. For this enormous contribution Bill Whelan summarised Ed's role aptly as: 'He was the Ed in Biochemical Education.' Don and Judy Voet became the Editors-in-Chief after 2000 and Ed continued as a highly active Associate Editor. Ed was a tireless reader of scientific books and to indicate his enormous capacity to read and pass on his analyses he contributed 43 book reviews to BAMBED in the past 6 years, all of which Don Voet described as insightful and well written. As Ed advanced in his teaching and research career he won great admiration for his undergraduate lecturing and his postgraduate supervision. He also accommodated many visitors to Leeds, including Graham Parslow, co author of this tribute, who spent time working with him on sabbatical leave. Ed served as Head of his Department at Leeds from 1991 to 1996 and was awarded a chair in 1998. Ed was a major contributor to the writing of Standards for the PhD Degree in the Molecular Biosciences sponsored by the IUBMB and published in two editions (1989 and 2000). His approach was pragmatic, being more concerned with practical ways of improving teaching, rather than a proponent of any particular educational theory. Even so, he was well versed in theories of education and used this knowledge for incisive, but always helpful, refereeing of articles submitted to Biochemical Education. Ed's excellent grounding in theory also informed the summaries that he presented as part of talks and discussions at educational conferences and workshops. Serendipitously, Frank Vella (co author of this tribute) served as the Education Officer of the IUB through the 1980s and a remarkable synergy of purpose took shape whereby numerous countries benefited from biochemical education workshops run by Ed, Frank and Alan Mehler. Ed visited many countries and maintained his ties with them. The love of travelling stayed with Ed and he was never short of invitations to talk at conferences or to be an external examiner at many universities. His recent roles as Chairman of the FEBS Education Group and as Editor-in-Chief of the Bioscience Education e-journal meant that his diary of pending engagements was as full as ever when he left us. Ed was a man for all seasons; scholar, author, teacher, researcher, administrator and friend.

Curriculum vitae: Professor Edward J Wood, MA, DPhil (Oxon)

Professor Wood read Biochemistry at The Queen's College, Oxford, UK, then undertook research for a DPhil at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Oxford. He became a lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry and Physiology at the University of Malta in 1967 and his sons Benjamin and Dominic were born at this time. From 1972 he was associated with the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Leeds, UK. During his career he maintained a research group working initially on invertebrate respiratory proteins and subsequently on the proteins of human skin and their role in skin disease and wound healing. His work in this area had close associations with the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries, as well as with clinicians. His research output resulted in the publication of over 100 scientific journal papers. At Leeds University he served as the first Dean of Teaching and Learning in biological sciences and also chaired the committee that was responsible for the revision of the Leeds Medical Course to bring it into line with the GMC recommendations. Ed maintained a keen interest in the education and training of biologists and medical scientists. He accepted numerous invitations to speak at international meetings and to organise workshops on curriculum reform and innovations in education including problem-based learning and e-learning. In addition to his role as Editor-in-Chief of Biochemical Education, Ed has served as Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Dermatology: Retinoids and other Treatments and served on the editorial boards of other journals. He also served as a member of the Committee on Education of the IUBMB, as Chairman of the UK Biochemical Society's Education Group, and was a member of the Educational Resources Task Force of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). In 2000, Ed became the Director of the Learning and Teaching Support Network for Bioscience, now the Higher Education Academy Centre for Bioscience. He was a Teaching Quality Assessor who travelled to many of the Biochemistry Departments in England and Scotland and he participated in similar schemes internationally. Ed was prolific in writing and editing student textbooks, starting with Introducing Biochemistry in 1983. A collaboration with Chris Smith (Manchester) in the 1990s saw the creation of a major series of biochemistry texts that built into a comprehensive treatise, published by Chapman & Hall. The final collaborative book was The Biology of Disease, published in 2006 with Nessar Ahmed, Maureen Dawson and Chris Smith. Ed officially retired from the University of Leeds with the title Professor Emeritus in 2006.

Reprinted with kind permission from the journal Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education. Copyright [c] 2009, International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Wiley-Blackwell (publisher).

Professor Bill Cunliffe writes:

Ed played a very central role in the development of dermatological science in Leeds. I was fortunate in meeting Ed when he very kindly provided me access to students with mild acne who subsequently volunteered to help in clinical trials in the treatment of acne with topical creams. We chatted over a few cups of coffee and I was impressed by the interest he took in the problems we had in the dermatology department. We clearly needed a biochemist to guide us to better understand two very common disorders--acne and leg ulcers, in which we had a significant interest. Ed was an obvious choice and thereafter for 15 years played a pivotal role in the dermatology department at Leeds.

Along with Professor Keith Holland in microbiology and Professor Eileen Ingham in immunology, he became a director of the Leeds Foundation for Dermatological Research and helped to establish the Skin Research Centre at Leeds University.

Despite his many other activities he threw himself fully into helping the dermatology department at Leeds General Infirmary. His involvement went well beyond our initial discussions. Because of his extensive interest in education, he gave regular seminars to the trainee medical registrars about the scientific developments that were rapidly taking place in the field of molecular medicine and biochemistry. The registrars were impressed as to how he could make difficult concepts appear so easily understood.

It was because of this educational skill that he was invited to join the editorial board of Clinical Dermatology: Retinoids and other Treatments. His appointment dramatically changed the style and content of the journal because of his ability in making complex scientific developments appear really simple.

As part of the multidisciplinary approach between dermatology, biochemistry, microbiology and immunology he became the PhD supervisor for several students. Some of the topics were very basic science, but others had a clinical bias. Without any difficulty he grasped the clinical issues and was in a great position to help the PhD students grapple with what can sometimes be a difficult situation, of working across two specialities --the clinical and laboratory arenas. Some of the discoveries which his students made have significantly improved the understanding of two common clinical problems--acne and wound healing. Under his direction the PhD students would regularly have papers published in high-quality peer-reviewed journals and data was presented at both national and international conferences. On one occasion the work he directed won a prize at the European Society for Dermatological Research

Ed was a very quiet, caring person who would have made a good physician because of what would have been a lovely bedside manner. He was wonderful to get on with, never cross, had an engaging, quiet sense of humour and was always willing to help. At a personal level, I have always been immensely grateful for the help that he gave me to continue a career in clinical/scientific dermatology. He was always reticent about putting himself forward, and yet he did so much. This has become even more apparent when I read the tributes made by other colleagues. Reading these obituaries has given me a tremendous insight into the talents of an outstanding individual. He was so modest about the depth of value which he gave to society, nationally and internationally that even though I thought I knew him well, I did not really fully appreciate just what he had achieved. My dermatological colleagues in Leeds along with me express our condolences to the family and wish to put on record our sincere thanks for the help Ed gave dermatology locally, nationally and internationally. Ed will be very much missed by his family, and colleagues nationally and internationally. Ed made the world a much better place.

Professor Andrew Griffiths writes:

The original editorial team for Clinical Dermatology: Retinoids and other Treatments was Dr Andrew Griffiths, Professor Nicholas Lowe, Professor Ronald Marks and Professor Bill Cunliffe. With the rapidly expanding literature in this area, it was soon realised that we needed editorial assistance with the highly technical basic science literature. We invited Ed Wood to join us and later to take over the principal editorship. It is with great regret that we have learned of his death. He was extremely well informed in the basic sciences relating to retinoids and contributed many reviews of original articles from the literature and many highly lucid original reviews of particular areas, right up to the time of his death. He was invariably a kind and helpful colleague. He was delightful to work with and so well connected in the scientific community that we had no difficulty in counterbalancing the marked clinical representation on the editorial board with a very strong presence in fields unlikely to be covered by clinicians. We wish to pay tribute to his considerable talents. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.

Professor Nicholas J Lowe writes:

It is with great sadness that I learned of Ed's untimely death. He was an easygoing, very approachable colleague. As an expert basic scientist, he tolerated us clinicians on the editorial team of the journal, despite having a much greater depth of scientific knowledge than the rest of us!

He was an extensive source of information, readily offered, and was instrumental in guiding basic science sections of the journal. His written contributions were always a model of clarity, always accurate, concise and highly relevant.

He will indeed be greatly missed by us all.

Fatima Patel, Editorial Director, Clinical Dermatology, Retinoids & other Treatments writes:

When Ed Wood joined the clinical Editorial Board of the journal, he brought with him a new dimension to the scientific literature in the field of retinoids and lipid-soluble vitamins. He highlighted the increasing importance of these compounds in dermatology. He has contributed actively to the journal ever since and eventually took over the journal as Editor. His writing, prompt and elegant contributions to the journal, have kept it going into its 25th year of publication. All of us here at Mediscript have enjoyed working with Ed through the years; he will be sadly missed and most difficult to replace. We would like to pay a tribute to his contribution to the journal, to biochemistry as a subject and to a person who was kind and gentle and a pleasure to work with.

Graham Parslow (1) and Frank Vella (2)

(1) University of Melbourne, Australia and (2) University of Saskatchewan, Canada
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Author:Parslow, Graham; Vella, Frank
Publication:Clinical Dermatology
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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