Obituary of Professor Guy Dodson, FRS

13 January 1937 – 24 December 2012

Guy Dodson, who died on Christmas Eve in 2012, was an inspirational scientist who left an enduring impact on the University of York.

He was born in Palmerston North, New Zealand, as twin brother of Maurice to whom he remained very close throughout his life. Guy studied Chemistry in Auckland where he graduated with a PhD in crystallography in 1962. His excitement at the possibilities for structural science encouraged the move to Dorothy Hodgkin’s laboratory in Oxford. What was supposed to be a short-term postdoctoral position led to him becoming a central figure in her laboratory until Dorothy’s retirement in 1976.  

His time at Oxford had a defining influence on his life and career.  He met and married Eleanor and together they began to establish a scientific reputation and enduring worldwide network through their work on the crystal structure of insulin. Guy also embraced the Hodgkin philosophy of allowing individual talent to mature.

Guy and Eleanor have been a formidable team. Eleanor’s mathematical skills have combined gloriously with Guy’s enthusiasm for protein structure in making a significant impact across chemistry and biology.  Guy moved to York in 1976 (where Maurice was already a lecturer in Mathematics) to the Department of Chemistry and, with Eleanor, established a protein structure research group. This was an unusual but visionary appointment by the then Head of Department, Dick Norman which has had three equally important impacts on the scientific standing of York.

First, there was Guy’s personal research when he was at York. Alongside detailed and thoughtful studies of structure and mechanism in systems such as haemoglobin and penicillin acylase, he pioneered effective collaboration with industry, with groundbreaking work in protein engineering and structures of insulin derivatives (which are currently multi-billion dollar medicines) and on the structure and mechanism of action of industrial enzymes. This work put York at the centre of the growing field of structural biology and ideally positioned the laboratory to ride the wave of expansion in the field in the 1980s and 90s. Among many other awards, he was elected as FRS in 1994 and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2002. Eleanor’s contributions to computational crystallography were also recognised with her election as FRS in 2003.

Second, the combination of Guy’s passion for structure and Eleanor’s leadership in crystallographic methods created the environment which attracted talented scientists to York. Guy mentored a succession of postdoctoral fellows who went on to international prominence in their disciplines. A key quality was his enthusiasm, generosity of spirit and his willingness to devote his time to assist and advise others.  

Third, there was Guy’s commitment to embedding structural insights into the lexicon of biological research. At York, this was achieved by establishing with Rod Hubbard and Keith Wilson, the York Structural Biology Laboratory (YSBL) as a research unit within the Department of Chemistry. In 1993, Guy was persuaded to also lead a Division at NIMR in Mill Hill, where his energies established yet another internationally leading research group, bringing structural insights to biomedical research.

Throughout all their time in York, Guy and Eleanor established a serious reputation for hospitality - both for visitors but also for those in difficulties. You never knew who would be staying in the various rooms of the cavernous 101 East Parade; a major party venue for decades.

Guy combined scientific enthusiasm with an impish charm and generated a generosity of spirit in all those around him. He created a laboratory in which there is to this day a real community of scientists who work together for the common good – a wonderful legacy.

Rod Hubbard and Keith Wilson, Department of Chemistry

Guy Dodson Memorial Meeting 15-16 June 2013