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Citation by Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell
Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Professor Paddy Johnston took up his post as President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast in March 2014.

He didn’t have much of a settling-in period. Not that he’d have wanted one. That wasn’t his style.

In his first week, he found himself greeting another President – none other than Bill Clinton, who was delivering the inaugural annual lecture at the William J Clinton Leadership Institute.

It was a packed hall. A big event. In his own speech that night, Paddy remarked – Nobody told me it would be like this!

That was a joke, of course. He knew exactly what it would be like. He knew exactly what the occasion represented – the importance of Queen’s to society and community. He understood deeply the University’s ability to inspire, educate and innovate, and he understood his own responsibilities in leading this outstanding Russell Group institution.

The plaque in the black and white hall in the Lanyon Building is a roll of honour of Presidents and Vice-Chancellors since 1908. The final name is that of Professor Patrick Johnston. The dates – 2014 to 2017. Just three years.

Yet that does not and cannot tell the story of what he achieved in that short time – nor does it show the impact of his leadership throughout his career here.

When he arrived in 1996 as Professor and Head of the Department of Oncology at Queen’s and Belfast City Hospital, it was to head the modernisation of cancer services right across Northern Ireland.

Later, as Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences and Director of the Institute of Health Sciences, he transformed clinical research and education, creating a medical school that was for the whole of Northern Ireland, establishing sub-deaneries in all five Trusts and designating all acute hospitals as Queen’s University Teaching Hospitals.

When he became Vice-Chancellor, and with the support of Senate, he translated his strategic vision to the wider university and for the benefit of wider society.

This became Vision 2020 - Queen’s as a world-class international university that supports outstanding students and staff, working in world-class facilities, conducting leading-edge education and research, focused on the needs of society.

Instrumental in delivering the vision are the Global Research Institutes – in Food Security, Health Sciences, Electronics, Communications and Information Technology and, of course, the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice (acknowledge George).

His work to ensure that internationally-competitive research and teaching would impact at a local level on the social, economic and cultural development of Northern Ireland was a keystone of his leadership.

He oversaw growth and achievement across the board. During the past three years, research income has hit £100m for the first time, international student numbers have increased significantly and engagement with the local, national and international communities has been transformed.

He was thrilled when the Centre for Secure Information Technologies was awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize and when Her Majesty The Queen awarded Queen’s Northern Ireland’s first Regius Professorship.

He was proud of the university’s growing relationships around the world – for example, the China Queen’s College established at the China Medical University in Shenyang and the partnership in the Middle East with Dubai Healthcare City.

But he was also proud of relationships at home. Like my own university in Manchester, Queen’s is a campus in the heart of the city and with the city in its heart.

One of his last public events was a showcase at Belfast City Hall - to promote global thinking – locally – how to make Belfast a city of skills, innovation and economic prosperity. And in his speech he used Manchester as a shining example of Education and Local Authority working together towards shared goals.

He was the champion of young people. He saw them as Northern Ireland’s greatest resource. He was tireless in his campaign against the ‘brain drain’ to universities in GB and further afield and for better investment in Higher Education here.

Graduation begins tomorrow. Paddy Johnston loved Graduation. It was the highlight of his year. For him, everything he did, everything this university does, was for the benefit of the students.

He was particularly excited by your new Pathway To Opportunity programme, a route to Queen’s for talented young people who have the ability to succeed but need extra support.

He always encouraged students to ‘dream no little dreams.’

Paddy Johnston certainly dreamed no little dreams - but his dreams always came with a well-thought-out action plan. He was a force of nature, a natural leader, inspirational and visionary, who never accepted second best, from himself or anyone else.

He will always be recognised for his ability to inspire others by his clear vision and strategic direction - for his pursuit of excellence – his tenacity and his integrity – and all because he wanted Queen’s to work at the very highest level in every aspect of its activities.

I am often asked the question – What are universities for? My answer – They are for public good.

Paddy Johnston’s life was a beacon of that purpose and I know that his vision for Queen’s will continue undimmed.

I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity today to pay tribute to him.