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Issue 143 Spring 2022

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Photo of Keith Kirkham

Keith Kirkham

Keith Kirkham was born in 1929 in Lytham St Annes, the first child of Thomas and Clara Kirkham, who were bakers and confectioners. He attended Kirkham Grammar School, representing the school at both cricket and rugby, and was Head Boy in his final year.

He supported Preston North End and did not consider any other footballer fit to lace Tom Finney’s boots. However, having followed Willie Shankly’s career journey from Preston to Liverpool, he transferred his allegiance to Liverpool FC.

In 1949, he went to study Zoology at Birmingham University. It was here he met his future wife Mollie, whom he married in 1953. He left Birmingham to study at Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge, initially for a Diploma in Agricultural Sciences.

After completing his National Service in Oswestry. He returned to Cambridge for his PhD, on ‘The gonadotrophic potency of avian pituitary glands’, which he completed in 1958.

In 1960, he took a research position at the MRC’s Clinical Endocrinology Research Unit in Edinburgh. His extensive research into thyroid hormones included early investigations into long-acting thyroid stimulator (LATS), and the evaluation of radioimmunoassay methodology. He made numerous contributions to the literature.

It was during his time in Edinburgh that he served as Secretary of the Society for Endocrinology.

Keith enjoyed many activities outside work while living near Edinburgh, including singing in the church choir with Mollie, and landscaping and designing the family garden from scratch. He took up fishing as a new hobby, encouraged by his work colleagues Raymond Bain and Jimmy Lowe, who often accompanied him to the many fishing reservoirs on the outskirts of Edinburgh and to St Mary’s Loch in the Borders. He was also elected as an Independent District Councillor for Balerno, where he lived, and served the community with great humour and diligence.

After the closure of the Clinical Endocrinology Research Unit in Edinburgh in 1973, Keith became Assistant Director of the Clinical Research Centre that had recently opened on the Northwick Park Hospital campus in Harrow. He was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 1987.

As he approached retirement, the MRC asked him instead to stay on and oversee the Clinical Research Centre’s closure at the end of 1994. He was therefore the Centre’s last Director. It was to his great credit that every researcher and member of staff was found an alternative position prior to its closure.

His life was full of activities after retirement. Many visitors were welcomed at the family home. There were frequent holidays both in the UK and abroad, and many trips to the Theatre Royal in Windsor, to Twickenham and other venues for rugby matches, and to the family boat on the River Thames for holidays and weekends. In particular, he derived great pleasure from time spent with his family.

He was appointed as a Governor of Harrow College of Further Education, now the University of Westminster. He took his duties very seriously and served for many years. He received an Honorary Doctorate in 1999 in recognition of his efforts.

Keith celebrated 60 years of marriage to Mollie in 2013. The care he provided and the love he showed for her as her vascular dementia evolved was inspiring. She sadly died in 2019, and he missed her dreadfully after having being married for nearly 66 years.

Keith was immensely proud that his last public outing was to his grandson Harry’s Commissioning Parade at Sandhurst in November 2019. Since then, his chronic renal failure deteriorated, and he required almost daily peritoneal dialysis. He was also discovered to have clear cell renal carcinoma. As his health failed, he was cared for magnificently at home by Margaret, a retired District Nurse who had initially been a visiting carer for Mollie. He died peacefully at home, leaving two sons, Jonathan and Christopher, two daughters-in-law Susie and Liz, and four grandchildren James, Sarah, Harry and Molly.

He had a long and very happy marriage, and a great life, well-lived. He was a shining example to all, as was confirmed by the many humbling messages received from family, friends and eminent colleagues. He was a remarkable man from humble beginnings, whose intelligence, humour, hard work and ambition enabled him to lead the life he wanted, and whose example and support encouraged all.

Jonathan Kirkham

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