A tribute to Patrick Johnston – Vice-Chancellor of Queens University

There was palpable shock and genuine grief among the staff of Queens on Sunday evening following announcement of the death of the Vice-Chancellor, Paddy Johnston. A top flight academic and brilliant administrator had died suddenly in his prime when he had so much more to give.

We were in the same year at St Columb’s College, Derry during the first half of the 1970s. He being a day boy and I being a boarder, and being in different classes of that year, we had minimal contact. That was until the College organised a Form 4 careers visit to the University of Ulster Campus at Coleraine. On the return by train he was in my carriage sitting quietly on his own in the corner and I asked, as a way of bringing him into the conversation, if he had seen anything to interest him. Nothing on the UU syllabus was of any interest, he bluntly declared; he was going to UCD to study medicine and work in cancer research. This was 1974, two years before our A levels exams, and here was someone that had a clarity and confidence in his future that I could only envy. Then he was shy and unassuming, timid even, yet in that short conversation he impressed me greatly.
And off course he followed that path and brilliantly too. Following medicine in UCD he spent some time in the US at the National Institute of Health, a world leader in cancer treatment, before being head-hunted to take over the Cancer Centre at City Hospital and Queens.

I met him only infrequently during his years at Queens mainly through mutual friends. His steely vision remained and his leadership to see the vision achieved had greatly developed. The vision for Queens was Vision 2020 – to internationalise the University in a global economy -and where it was not popular with all, he and his senior management team, were right in pursing it.

The work in achieving Vision 2020 will now be left to others. I can only imagine the heart break for this wife and four sons and the wider Johnston family who congregate regularly for short breaks just north of Buncranna. Paddy Johnson was, in many ways like the rest of us; getting on with life, raising children some difficult, doing his best unsure at times but he was also an outstanding individual who did so much for the organisations he worked for and he will be sadly and genuinely missed by so many.

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  • SDLP supporter

    A good and effective man down. Certainly, the biggest loss is to his wife, Iseult, and their four sons. He escaped from the introverted quagmire of mediocrity that, at times, is NI public life but he came back, enriched by his experience, and we all benefited from his intellect, executive ability and energy. He was a fluent Irish speaker and a star at Colaiste Bhride, Rann na Feirste. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.

  • 05OCT68

    Didn’t know the man & was surprised to learn he was from Derry. He made a great speech during my daughters graduation Dec 2016, seemed a guy of good humor, RIP.

  • Sprite

    Met Paddy a few times a number of years ago. He was a special man, hugely talented with such ambition for Northern Ireland. He was always striving for us to be excellent in what we do. A huge loss.

  • SilentMajority

    This sad loss has struck a particular chord with me for some reason.

    Professor Johnston contributed so much to society and whilst it is only right to see merit in each life as equal, no matter what way lived or achieved/not achieved, perceived to be great or not, Professor Johnston did seem to have a clear and unwavering vision to help humanity and clearly did this in a major way. This was visible in his world class work on cancer, his building of the world class NI Cancer Research Centre, his significant impact at QUB as Vice Chancellor, the fruits of which will be valuable for a long time in to the future, but also in simply having time and care for those he came in to contact with. In simple terms a great human being and citizen.

    He was however, although a strong character, also a quiet and unassuming man in many respects in spite of his high profile.

    These are gentle qualities of true greatness.

    I hope for solace to and strength for his dear family and friends at this sad time

    RIP.