Professor Roger Williams CBE
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Professor Roger Williams CBE

Professor Roger Williams CBE

We were deeply sorry to learn of the death of Roger Williams who died in London, after a cardiac event on 25th July 2020.

Roger was a giant in the field of liver medicine and has had a huge impact on the understanding and treatment of liver disease, especially of liver transplantation and liver failure, but also on many aspects of liver disease. At the time of his death, he was still very active as Director of the Institute of Hepatology, London, Professor of Hepatology, King's College London, and lead of the Lancet Commission into Liver Disease in the UK.

Roger graduated in 1949 and after national service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, he worked at the Postgraduate Medical School, London before moving to work as a lecturer to Professor Sheila Sherlock at the Royal Free Hospital Liver Unit. After a brief spell in Southampton, he was appointed as Clinical Tutor and Consultant Physician at King's College Hospital. In 1966, he set up a Unit which became the focus of many advances in liver disease. He started with almost no facilities or resources and built the unit from scratch. The Unit (later to become the Institute of Liver Studies) became the vanguard for liver research and liver care. His vision brought together clinicians and scientists and he ensured there was close physical as well as collaborative working between the laboratory and the patients. He also ensured that adult and paediatric services worked together as well as ensuring the close and effective collaboration between physicians and surgeons and with pathologists. He also insisted on hepatology involvement in intensive care. Fellows came from the UK and around the world. In 1996, he moved for a while to start a new research Institute at University College London, funded by the Foundation for Liver Research but returned to King's College Hospital in 2016. He continued to be active, both clinically and in a research capacity until his death. He also was very active internationally and even politically. Outside medicine, his interests were opera and sport. He enjoyed tennis and yacht racing.

From the PBC point of view, Roger was one of the first leaders to start clinical trials in PBC and his early clinical studies, some in collaboration with colleagues in Barcelona and Copenhagen, are landmark studies. In the unit, he developed the work on prognostic models and risk factors for progression. His early recognition of the role of liver transplantation in the treatment of not only PBC but also acute and chronic liver disease meant that his patients were able to access this life saving treatment in its early stages. I started learning about PBC whilst a fellow in Kings, taking over the trials of azathioprine and penicillamine from John Crowe who left to take up a post in Dublin. I have been working in areas of PBC ever since; the national and international connections and friendships have remained strong and stem from my time at Kings. For Roger, PBC was just one of many areas where he has made a huge contribution that has benefitted many patients in the UK and around the world.

Roger was a colourful, inspiring and impressive person to work for. He had a great and wide knowledge of liver disease and loved the clinical work. His ward rounds were colourful and instructive and always enjoyable. He never flinched from controversy and followed his principles. All those who worked and trained under him are well aware of his influence and virtually every meeting of hepatologists saw a clustering of Liver Unit fellows who swopped stories of their times at Kings.

He will be missed by all who knew him; his tremendous legacy will live on for many decades. He leaves behind a family and we send them our condolences.