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In Memoriam: Roger Williams, ‘a true giant in the field of liver health’

Roger Williams

31 July 2020 – The public health world was shocked to learn of the passing of professor Roger Williams over the weekend of 26-27 July.

Professor Williams CBE FRCS FRCP FRCPE FRACP FMedSci (born 28 August 1931 – 25 July 2020) was a pioneer in many areas of hepatology, including the delivery of an integrated model of liver care and being a key part of the team that performed the first liver transplant in the UK at King’s College Hospital London in 1968.

His influence was also felt in liver disease research, publishing many of the key papers advancing care in liver disease, and founding institutes at King’s and University College London to further hepatology research.

He founded The Lancet commission on liver disease in 2013, in addition to the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL), on which he served as a chairman in 1983 and as honorary president in 2008.

In 1993 professor Williams was given an CBE for his services to medicine. He remained an active and passionate advocate for improvement in the care of patients with liver disease to the end of his life.

Tributes poured in from colleagues, acquaintances and fellow public health experts who worked with him over the years.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said: ‘Roger Williams. I miss this man. We didn’t agree about politics, but he was my friend, my mentor, and an inspiration. RIP Roger. I loved you.’

Prof Rajiv Jalan wrote: ‘it is with a very heavy heart that I share the terrible news that Prof Roger Williams died yesterday after battling with a cardiac event. A really sad day for Hepatology. Will miss his spirit...’

Professor of Hepatology at King’s, Michael Heneghan, concurred:

‘The passing of a giant. Roger Williams, The Father of Transplant Hepatology and a founding Father of Hepatology. Fondly Missed.’

‘Roger was a towering figure in British and indeed global hepatology’ wrote professor Steve Ryder, chair of the British Liver Trust medical advisory group.

Dr Alastair McKinlay’s tribute in the British Society of Gastroenterology noted not only that ‘the lives of many patients with liver disease were greatly improved by his work’, but also that Williams was an inspiration to ‘a huge cohort of hepatology trainees’ ensuring that his legacy will be felt across the world well beyond his death.

Commenting on his legacy, IAS chief Dr Katherine Severi said:

‘Professor Roger Williams was a true giant in the field of liver health, and demonstrated tremendous leadership in convening the Lancet Standing Commission on Liver Disease. Liver disease affects some of the most vulnerable members of our society and Roger used his indefatigable energies and powers of persuasion to raise awareness of its impact amongst UK policy makers, bringing an issue into the spotlight which for too long has been hidden behind closed doors.

‘Roger was an inspirational role model who proactively sought out opportunities to support early career researchers and build enthusiasm for change. It is a privilege to have been his colleague and I will miss him dearly. He leaves behind an exceptional legacy and an abundance of fond memories.’