Lives of the fellows

Anthony Johnson Hedley

b.8 April 1941 d.19 December 2014
MB ChB Aberd(1965) MD(1972) MRCP(1973) Dip Soc Med Ed(1973) MFCM(1974) FRCP Edin(1981) FFCM(1981) MD Khon Kaen(1983) FRCP Glasg(1985) FRCP(1987) FFPHM(1990)

Tony Hedley was head of the department of community medicine at Hong Kong University. He was born in Greenmount, Lancashire, the son of Thomas Johnson Hedley, a chemical engineer and managing director, and Winifred Hedley née Duncan, a secretary. He was educated in Lancashire and north Wales, and then read medicine at the University of Aberdeen. It was in Aberdeen that he was enticed to combine his clinical work with the relatively new discipline of social medicine by Maurice Backett [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] and Roy Weir [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], who became his lifelong friend. In 1964 he spent three months at the Fiji School of Medicine on a Nuffield scholarship.

He qualified MB ChB in 1965 and spent the next four years in Aberdeen, as a house surgeon, house physician and as a research fellow in the department of therapeutics. From 1969 to 1972 he was a medical registrar at Maryfield Hospital, Dundee. In 1972 he moved to Edinburgh, as a fellow (senior registrar) in community medicine. After two years he returned to Aberdeen, as a lecturer in community medicine, and in 1976 he became a senior lecturer in community medicine at the University of Nottingham, a post he held until 1983. From 1983 to 1988 he was Henry Mechan professor of public Health at the University of Glasgow.

While at Glasgow he was offered the chair of community medicine at the University of Hong Kong and moved there to work full-time in the region that presented his greatest challenges, but was also the scene of his greatest triumphs. He had already visited southeast Asia: Maurice Baskett had encouraged Tony to travel there for the Ministry of Overseas Development in the 1970s, and he had worked tirelessly to help set up the medical faculty at Khon Kaen University in northeast Thailand.

In Hong Kong, Tony quickly realised that in order to achieve public health improvements, the government policy makers and civil servants would need help to understand the issues and solutions. He set about building world class research teams to generate sound, reliable evidence of the impact of environmental and behavioural threats to public health and presented the evidence at all levels of policy-making. He was a charismatic speaker, able to generate enthusiasm for his views from members of the public to the highest levels of government, presenting scientific arguments to which lay listeners, scientist and clinicians could all relate. His messages were not always welcome, but they were heard.

Among many government and non-government appointments, he chaired the Hong Kong Council on Smoking and Health, and nurtured stringent tobacco control legislation while simultaneously hampering the myriad efforts of the tobacco companies to expand their customer base in southeast Asia and worldwide. As the air quality in the region deteriorated, he was at the forefront of efforts to generate evidence and convince policy makers that action was needed. His energetic efforts culminated in the creation of the Hedley Environmental Index, a real time indicator of the health and economic impact of the ambient air pollution levels in Hong Kong and named by his colleagues in his honour. Now in its third version, the index is regularly consulted by the public and government officials in Hong Kong and influences education and advocacy around the world.

As an example of the affection and admiration in which Tony was held, the school of public health held a meeting in his honour in December 2014, to which he travelled, having discharged himself from a hospice on the Isle of Man. He died a week after returning from that trip. The faculty of medicine of Khon Kaen University held a memorial service attended by all surviving faculty deans and many friends and colleagues. During his career he was awarded an honorary doctorate from King Bhumibol of Thailand, in 1983, the Bronze Bauhinia Star from the Hong Kong Government, in 2000, and the World Health Organization medal for outstanding contributions to public health, in 1999. Over the course of his career he published over 360 scientific papers, including several while still a medical student.

Apart from his intense interest in his work, Tony was a talented photographer, an enthusiastic vintage car driver and private pilot, a knowledgeable amateur medical historian and a keen trainee astronomer. He worked on his Open University course until his final days.

He married Elizabeth-Anne Hedley, a health visitor, in 1967. In 2008 he married his second wife, Sarah McGhee, a research colleague.

Tony Hedley is remembered fondly by his many trainees to whom he gave an excellent grounding in the principles and practice of public health. He can count many professors of public health and senior policy makers among these. Of all his achievements, it was probably helping these trainees to achieve their qualifications and expertise that gave him the greatest satisfaction.

Sarah Hedley

[The Guardian 28 January 2015 – accessed 22 November 2015; South China Morning Post 27 April 2015 – accessed 22 November 2015; BMJ 2015 350 611 – accessed 22 November 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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