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My Cardiff

Professor Stephen Tomlinson

The former Vice-Chancellor(VC) of the University of Wales College of Medicine, and Deputy VC now Provost of the University, Professor Stephen Tomlinson recalls all those he’s met since coming to Cardiff in 2001.

Professor Stephen Tomlinson

Professor Stephen Tomlinson

I came to Cardiff from Manchester in 2001 as Vice-Chancellor (VC) of the University of Wales College of Medicine (UWCM). I had been Dean of the Medical School and the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing at Manchester University for six years and before that, Professor of Medicine. My interests in Manchester had been narrowly focussed as a clinician scientist, on laboratory-based research into how hormones work, clinical work as a specialist in diabetes and endocrinology and leadership of a Faculty in a great civic University. I thought coming to Cardiff would simply be more of the same in a different environment. How wrong I was! Where to begin? I guess with the question: “what have I done that I couldn’t or wouldn’t have done in Manchester?” Well, first, suggested merger of UWCM with Cardiff University; by any yardstick, merger has been a great success. Cardiff is well on its way to the original vision David Grant and I shared of a world-class University for Wales – in his words, “local hero, global player”.

Next, because of Wales and Cardiff, I have been able to rekindle my interests in sport, the arts and humanities and the history of medicine. I often say with a kind of perverse satisfaction to young people who are contemplating a career in medicine: “you have to understand it is a way of life, not just a job” and for me it was, for more than 20 years.

If I hadn’t come to Cardiff I would have remained a narrowly focused clinician scientist and senior academic. I certainly wouldn’t have become involved in sports medicine, set up the sports forum and met some marvellous sports people. People like Arthur Emyr, former Wales international rugby player, Nicki Phillips, Chief Physio for Team GB at the Beijing Olympics, John Williams, Team Doctor for the Wales Rugby Team and Len Nokes, Team Doctor for Cardiff City. I’ve had dinner with Seb Coe, and worked with Mike Benjamin, Professor of musculoskeletal biology and sports medicine research (and father of Tim Benjamin, 400m GB athlete!) to help establish the Wales Institute for Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences (WISHES) ( I’ve also been involved in the potential health legacy in Wales of the London Olympics 2012 and have co-chaired a Welsh Assembly Government working party with Jane Hutt, then Minister for Health and Social Care, on Food and Fitness in Young People and produced a report that has influenced Government policy.

I`ve met Gwyneth Lewis, Wales’ first National Poet who is responsible for “In These Stones Horizons Sing” on the front of the Wales Millennium Centre, Deborah Bull, formerly Covent Garden ballerina and now Artistic Director of the Royal Opera House and Jonathan Miller (one of the last great medical polymaths) and discussed “suffering for your art” with both of them. Jonathan Miller told me: “I always say to a cast of a play or an opera I am directing: at the end of every performance I expect you to be physically exhausted – I expect the audience to be emotionally exhausted”. And if I hadn’t come to Cardiff, I certainly wouldn’t have led an Arts Council review of Arts, Health and Well-being in Wales!

Around the time I came to Cardiff in 2001, it was the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the Welsh National School of Medicine (WNSM), the predecessor of UWCM, and a Timeline of WNSM’s history had been produced to celebrate it ( From that I became fascinated by the History of Medicine in Wales. Subsequently Dr Alun Roberts who had been Registrar of UWCM, then Director of NHS Liaison and who also happened to be a published historian was commissioned to write a history of the Welsh National School of Medicine, to be published later this year. I also got to know Keir Waddington, Reader in History and Roberta Bivins and with others set up a History of Medicine group. From that, the idea of a History of Medicine in Wales Exhibition at St Fagan’s resulted, an idea strongly supported by the Museum and now the subject of a bid to the Wellcome Trust. We hope if the bid is successful that the Exhibition will be in place in 2010.

Anything else? Yes, global health. I doubt I would have been Chairman of the Tropical Health and Education Trust ( a charity dedicated to improving basic health services by helping to train health workers in the poorest countries in the world. The many links that the University has with Africa have resulted in the development of the Global Health Initiative in the University, a Cardiff for Africa conference and development of relationships with Cardiff’s Somali Community.

But in the end, it’s not about organisations, its all about the wonderful people that I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t come to Cardiff, not only those I have already mentioned, but also people like the Archbishop of Canterbury just before he was about to take up his post and go off to Lambeth Palace with his family. I met Sir Tasker Watkins (now sadly, no longer with us), Victoria Cross winner and former Chairman of UWCM Council several times, the last time over dinner at Cardiff Business Club when we talked about the difference between courage and bravery (“courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear” – Ambrose Redmoon, writer). Chris, my wife and I have become friends with Cardiff Nobel Prizewinner Sir Martin Evans and his wife Judith, and have even met royalty, having lunch with the Duke of Edinburgh in the Dental School and meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace!

But those I remember best, are the many friends I met starting at UWCM in 2001, people like Chris Turner, Les Rees, Mike Grant, Malcolm Jones, Ken Woodhouse and Mike Owen, who still have key roles in the University; others like Michael Griffiths, former Chairman of Council of UWCM, Ann Tucker, Nigel Palastanga, Simon Smail, Steve Pritchard, Martin Booy and Alun Roberts now all retired and David Owens, with whom I worked in the Diabetes Centre at Llandough and with whom I am now exploring how we can help improve services for people with diabetes in developing countries. And just a word of thanks to Lisa and Anita, my hard working, efficient, loyal and tolerant PA/Secretaries, without whom none of this would have happened, not even this piece on My Cardiff!

On top of this Chris and I live in a lovely spot in the Vale of Glamorgan in what was once the village pub (The Five Bells) near a 13th century church surrounded by fields.

Finally, I was there! Chris and I were at the Millenium Stadium to watch the Wales v.Ireland match for the Grand Sam in 2005. And Wales won,the first time in 27 years; for me, the most thrilling and inspirational sporting event ever!

So, Cardiff, its University, Wales and its people, thanks for a wonderful seven years (so far!).

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