Lives of the fellows

Simon Dafydd Glyn Stephens

b.2 July 1942 d.2 July 2012
BSc Lond(1962) MB BS(1965) MRCS LRCP(1965) MPhil(1973) MRCP(1984) DHMSA(1980) FRCP(1994)

Dafydd Stephens (‘Dai’), director of the Welsh Hearing Institute at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, was an international authority on hearing impairment and an outspoken advocate for the hearing impaired, and contributed significantly to the establishment of audiovestibular medicine as a specialty.

He was born in Caerfyrddin, Wales, the son of Thomas Glyn Stephens and Doris Keturah Stephens née Harry, who were both teachers. The family eventually moved to London, but Stephens maintained a strong sense of his Welsh identity and a passion for the Welsh language. He attended Whitgift School in Croydon from 1952 to 1959, and then went on to Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, where he won the Huxley prize.

His interest in audiology was sparked when, in 1962, after graduating with a first degree in physiology from London University, he spent a summer vacation as a research fellow at the University of Iowa. It was there he met Ronald Hinchcliffe [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], who had co-founded audiological medicine. Hinchcliffe became a firm friend and colleague until his death in 2011. Stephens returned to Charing Cross Hospital Medical School to complete his clinical training, but maintained his interest in audiology and took a part-time job as an audiometrician in the ENT department.

On qualification in 1965, he was a house surgeon in the ENT department at Charing Cross Hospital, a house physician in the medical professorial unit at Fulham Hospital and subsequently a house physician in the psychiatry department at Charing Cross. He then started research in the Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Applied Psychology Unit at Cambridge and the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington. From there he moved to the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research at the University of Southampton.

In 1976 he was appointed as a consultant and head of the department of audiological medicine at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital in London. At the time of his appointment, Stephens requested a secondment to Odense, in Denmark, the centre of excellence in auditory rehabilitation. He went on to establish many contacts abroad and collaborations, covering, among other topics, psychoacoustics, the psychology of hearing and balance disorders, genetics, drug trials, a paradigm for optimal auditory rehabilitation, central auditory processing, hearing loss in systemic disease and specific inner ear disorders, including Ménière’s disease, ototoxicity and presbycusis.

Aware of the importance of access to auditory rehabilitation nationwide, Stephens was successful in helping create a number of consultant audiological physician positions throughout the UK. In 1986, he was appointed as the director of the MRC Welsh Hearing Institute at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. At the institute he developed an outstanding research programme, undertook outreach clinics in the Welsh valleys, and maintained and led a clinical service at the University Hospital of Wales.

His reputation as an enthusiastic and approachable teacher, a compassionate clinician and an internationally recognised researcher rapidly spread. His opinion was sought in the UK by the Department of Health, the Medical Research Council, the Department of Health and Social Security, the British Standards Institution, the Hearing Aid Council and all the relevant professional medical bodies, while internationally he trained innumerable research fellows from Australia to Brazil, taught and examined postgraduate students across the globe from Canada to Thailand and established research collaborations in virtually every centre he visited.

Stephens was editor of all the major audiological journals, both nationally and internationally, wrote or edited seminal books on auditory disorders and auditory genetics and contributed to numerous major ENT and audiological medicine books. He contributed more than 400 original papers over his career and, although retiring from clinical practice in 2005, this did not reduce his prodigious and unique contribution to research and publications.

He was chairman or president of the British Association of Audiological Physicians, the International Association of Audiological Physicians and the International Society of Audiology and was a consultant to UNICEF on community rehabilitation programmes. He was an international trustee of the Amplifon Foundation in Italy and president of the International Collegium of Rehabilitative Audiology. In Wales he served as president of the Wales Council for Deaf People. He was awarded innumerable honours, including travelling fellowships to Poland, France, Italy, USA, the Copernicus medal of the University of Ferrara and an honorary diploma of the Polish Society of Audiology and Phoniatrics. He was a guest lecturer at virtually every major audiological conference between 1978 and 2006, and was visiting professor at Gothenburg University, the University of Bristol and a faculty member of the Ida Institute in Denmark.

Apart from his exceptional career he also had many other talents and interests. In his youth, he was a keen cyclist and cross-country runner. Throughout his life he was a fierce Welsh patriot. As a student he spent weekends in the Welsh countryside, painting out English language signs with green paint! His political enthusiasm did not escape the notice of the authorities and he was banned from Wales during the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. The formation of the Welsh Assembly was a source of immense pride for Stephens, who served as a councillor for the Llanmaes Community Council from 1987. He was chair of the Llanilltud Fawr and Y Bontfaen branch of Plaid Cymru from 1986 until his death.

In later life, Stephens was a recognised authority on the history of ENT medicine and was honorary secretary of the Society for the History of ENT. He was also passionately interested in the environment, in Wales and worldwide. With bird-watching colleagues he helped establish the World Land Trust, leaving, as a legacy, a project to preserve the wilderness in Mexico. At a personal level, he was environmentally friendly, long before it became fashionable, growing produce and maintaining a veritable farmyard of animals on his welcoming home in Llanmaes.

Stephens’ interests spanned Celtic history, language and culture and he met his Breton wife, Janig (née Bodiou), on a ferry having attended a meeting of the Celtic community. They married in 1970 and had an extremely happy family life, with Breton, Welsh, French and English all used interchangeably in the family home. They had three children, Morwena, Erwin and Rhiannon. Stephens died on his 70th birthday, after a long struggle with prostate cancer.

Linda Luxon

[BMJ 2012 345 6491 – accessed 22 September 2015; Audiological Medicine, 10:4, 186-7 – accessed 22 September 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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