MB BChir(1952) MRCP(1956) MD(1963) PhD (1964) FRCP(1973)
19 February 1928 – 15 March 2014
Geoffrey Aber was the first Head and subsequently Dean of Postgraduate Medicine at Keele University, a department he was instrumental in creating; and also a nephrologist responsible for setting up one of the first dialysis units in the UK in the 1960s. Brought up in Yorkshire, he had a distinguished academic record, first at Leeds Grammar School and then at Leeds University where he completed his undergraduate medical training in 1952; this was also where he developed his lifelong passion for sport, in particular rugby, tennis, cricket and athletics. This enjoyment of the physical life was further satisfied while he undertook his National Service. Working as a ‘medical specialist’, despite his only very recent qualification, he had the opportunity to work in a large Military Hospital in Singapore, and travel widely in the Far East. His exposure to tropical medicine undoubtedly stimulated his interests in the basic medical sciences and his decision to pursue an academic career on his return to the UK.
His research training was predominantly at the University of Birmingham with Professor JR Squire in the department of experimental pathology and subsequently Sir W Melville Arnott, but also included a year as research fellow in physiology at McGill University, Montreal with Professor Arnold Burgen. He obtained both an MD with distinction (Leeds, 1963) and a PhD (Birmingham, 1964) which led to him being selected by the Wellcome Trust as one of their early Senior Research Fellows to study the effects of chronic respiratory failure upon cardiac and renal conditions. This led to publications in Clinical Science and Nature describing the serial changes in renal function and acid-base state in patients with chronic bronchitis and substrate driven gluconeogenesis by the rat kidney.
In 1965 he was appointed Consultant Nephrologist at the North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary with the remit of setting up one of the first departments of nephrology in the country. In 1968, Malcolm Milne, then president of the Renal Association opened the dialysis unit Geoff had established. His other main task was to advise on the setting up of an Institute of Medical Research in North Staffordshire. Eventually this led to the establishment in 1978 of a School of Postgraduate Medicine and Biological Sciences at Keele University, creating the foundations of the academic partnership between the university and hospital which now flourish following the establishment of an Undergraduate Medical School and the Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine.
Although these steps in laying the foundations for academic and renal medicine in North Staffordshire should be seen as his major achievement, Geoff remained research active throughout his career and was appointed to a personal chair in 1982, subsequently becoming Dean of the School of Postgraduate Medicine, a post he held from 1989 to 1991. His research interests were diverse and included both animal studies of the effects of pregnancy and oestrogen on the rat kidney as well as a number of important contributions to clinical research. These included early descriptions of the use of cyclophosphamide in the treatment of relapsing nephrotic syndrome, the loin pain haematuria syndrome, and retroperitoneal fibrosis, a subject on which, with his long time urology colleague, Peter Higgins, he became an international authority.
Geoff was a dedicated family man and greatly supported throughout his career by his wife Ellie with whom he had a daughter, Allie and son, Mark. Although kind, he expected very high standards of his colleagues and trainees when attending oral presentations or reviewing work to be submitted for publication: it always paid to have your arguments ready and prepared before putting them forward as you could be sure they would come under forensic examination. One of his favourite pieces of advice was to learn to read upside down so that you could see what your interrogator on the other side of the desk had in front of them! His love of sport and cars – who can forget the loving attention with which the Porsche was parked outside his office – continued after his retirement to Harrogate where he was able to pursue the pleasures of golf (always he maintained this was his greatest challenge), the new interest of photography and make new friendships.
Simon J Davies