My Mentor and Friend
Created by Fraser 3 months ago
Andrew is the supreme example of how scientists (and academics more generally) should place their own careers in perspective and oversee the careers of others. I first knew of Andrew’s work while I was a postdoc with another great figure, Helmut Beinert, in 1980-81. Helmut respected only the most rigorous of scientists and Andrew was among this elite few – they published a classic paper together in 1982 which put the field of iron-sulphur clusters, then in some turmoil, back on track.
I first met Andrew in person at a meeting in St Andrews, in the mid 1980s and he encouraged me, a new early career investigator looking for challenges, to try some experiments with a highly unstable iron-sulphur protein; he had an instinct that a new approach would shed light on a persistent and troubling observation. Before long I would be making week-long trips to UEA, my car laden with bits of equipment which I would set up in his labs and work daily until late with Simon George. Over more than two years, Andrew made me feel very welcome in Norwich and always made time on a Friday, despite his busy schedule, to round things off with a discussion of our results.
Andrew’s quest for the truth was balanced beautifully by his respect for others who had made mistakes. His paper on the ‘copper-Z’ cluster in the enzyme that destroys nitrous oxide could have been triumphalist, as it showed very conclusively that a prominent group’s previous assignment of the structure of the active site was fundamentally flawed. To discredit others was not Andrew’s style. The closing paragraph in that paper of 2000 contained the low-key wording ‘…spectroscopic studies, strongly suggest that the bridging ligand in the CuZ cluster, which has been modeled in the 2.4 Å resolution crystal structure as an oxygen atom, is inorganic sulphide.’ As a result, the original authors were able to save face: they responded with a paper entitled ‘Revisiting the Catalytic CuZ Cluster of Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Reductase’, no pride being lost.
Few people even today know about Andrew’s key role during the 1960s, in elucidating the nature of cisplatin, the drug that has gone on to revolutionise medicine and give people back their lives. I recall only once Andrew telling me he had recently been to a Pharma company’s reunion of cancer survivors, where he had probably been guest of honour but wouldn’t make any big deal of it.
Despite his complete lack of ego, our humble hero was not averse to fun, that was often at other peoples’ expense. At a party in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, Philip Stephens the host, banished all the kids to ‘another’ room where they wouldn’t disrupt the adults’ enjoyment. Picture Andrew’s mischievous expression when Philip complained that my son Hamish had found a very valuable clock to play with, a Lego substitute no doubt. Andrew had a wonderful way of non-verbal communication and loved irony.
In recent years and right up to lockdown, a pillar of health and extended youth, Andrew would be seen dancing with Anne, his constant support, at the Royal Society during Anniversary Day. Anne and Andrew would steal the floor. I will miss him dearly, as will all his family, friends, colleagues and fellow scientists around the world.