Lives of the fellows

Dennis John Shale

b.19 February 1948 d.18 May 2017
BSc Newcastle(1972) MB BS(1975) MD(1979) MRCP(1980) FRCP(1991)

Dennis John Shale was professor of respiratory medicine at Llandough Hospital, Cardiff, Wales. He was born in Leicester, the son of Samuel Edward Shale, a master baker and confectioner, and Winifred Beatrice Shale née Newstead. In 1969, he began his studies at the University of Newcastle, and achieved first class honours in his bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery degrees, as well as in an intercalated BSc in physiology.

After completing his junior doctor training in Newcastle, Dennis embarked on what would be a long and eminent career in research by studying for his MD, which he was awarded in 1979, just four years after finishing medical school. It was during his registrar training in Oxford that Dennis developed his passion for respiratory medicine and in 1981 he became a senior registrar at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

In 1985, he was appointed as a consultant and senior lecturer in respiratory medicine at the University of Nottingham. There he would embark on a number of research projects, mainly on cystic fibrosis and chronic pulmonary infection. In 1990, at the age of 42, he was appointed to the prestigious post of David Davies professor of respiratory and communicable diseases at University Hospital Llandough, where he would work until his retirement in 2013.

During his 23 years as a professor in Cardiff, Dennis made huge contributions to our current understanding of inflammation, body composition and the systemic and cardiovascular sequelae of chronic lung disease. His numerous collaborations with specialties outside of respiratory medicine and with other departments in the UK and abroad continue to this day. Dennis had more than 100 peer-reviewed publications, as well as 11 book chapters and 23 editorials. He was awarded numerous research grants totalling millions of pounds, as well as educational grants, which helped to set up the asthma and respiratory resource centre.

Dennis supervised more than 21 PhDs and MDs. As a supervisor he was calm, patient, insightful and approachable, with an innate ability to think beyond the boundaries of his own field and expertise, and with a great eye for detail – no more was this evident than for those of us who were privileged to write and submit papers to journals. We would all learn that any paper with his name on it had to be perfect before submission. He struck a perfect balance between being encouraging and positive, without being overbearing and whilst giving autonomy.

Dennis’ career wasn’t just about research. He had a major role in the delivery and organisation of teaching at Cardiff University Medical School and continued the world-renowned diploma in TB and chest diseases. He was an excellent clinician with a kind and caring attitude to his patients. After he gave up his research, clinical and teaching commitments, instead of retiring Dennis decided to begin on a new challenge and chapter in his life – just like the man! In 2015, he began to work with GlaxoSmithKline and was appointed to the prestigious global medical expert team in 2016.

Having asked many people from all walks of life who knew Dennis how they will remember him, there was a definite theme to the descriptors used. He was described as kind, caring, patient, generous, intelligent, a true gentleman, but probably at the top of the list were the many references to his sharp wit and his wicked, and at times cheeky, sense of humour. A colleague, Annie Coles, recalls how she carried a large sack of mail into the department one morning where prof was making a drink in the kitchen. Turning her back for a few seconds, she looked round to find he had completely disappeared, only to reappear inside the large brown sack and proceed to propel himself at speed from one side of the corridor to the other as if he was in an Olympic sack race.

Outside of work, Dennis was true family man. In fact, he was never happier or more at ease than when he talked about his family. One of the many pearls of wisdom he gave me was ‘that while clinical and academic work are important, nothing is more important than your family’. He was a gifted, charming, funny, gentle and inspirational man who was loved by many and will be missed by everyone, not least his family.

Dennis was a keen gardener, a talented chef and a lover of all music, particularly baroque. The house is so quiet without his bubbly, spirited presence, and we will be forever grateful as a family to have had him in our lives. Dennis was survived by his first wife, Kathleen, with whom he had two children, Matthew and Victoria, and also by Pam (née Lawrence), whom he married in 1992, and their three children, Katie, George and Rosie.

Pamela Shale
Ramsey Sabit

[The Times 16 August 2017 – accessed 20 October 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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