About the University of Leicester

Dr Roger James

We have learned, with sadness, of the death of Dr Roger James, a former Reader in Immunology in the Department of Respiratory Sciences (previously Infection, Immunity and Inflammation).

Roger was born on 8 September 1949. He graduated from Sussex University in 1971 with a BSc in Biological Sciences, followed by an MSc in Immunology at Chelsea College, London University (1975). He undertook a PhD in Experimental Medicine at McGill University, Montreal where, he told a former colleague, he had to write his PhD thesis in French (1979).

This was followed by post-doctoral work (1978-1984) at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Tumour Immunology Unit and the Department of Zoology at University College London. This culminated in a paper in Nature, with Roger as first author.

In October 1984, Roger moved to the University of Leicester to take up a Lectureship (and ultimately a Readership) in the Department of Surgery. Here he performed highly regarded research on the immunology of islet cell transplantation as a pioneering treatment for Type 1 diabetes. This work was performed initially in rats and ultimately in humans.

Roger was someone with a rigorous approach to science. In the early 1990s he was a member of an independent ethics committee that reviewed the work of the Leicester Clinical Research Centre, a commercial company that carried out clinical trials, usually on healthy volunteers. This involved reading large volumes of paperwork and attending monthly meetings, where Roger would give an incisive opinion of the proposed studies and be prepared to challenge anything about which he was unclear. None of this brought any personal gain or recognition, with the only reward being able to nominate charities to benefit from financial donations made by the company in line with the number of studies reviewed.

With the reorganisation of the University of Leicester Medical School in 2003, Roger became one of the founder members of the new Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation where he established the highly successful research-based MSc programme in Infection and Immunity which registered its first students in September 2007. The MSc programme rapidly expanded with Roger as Course Convenor, achieving a total of 38 MSc students in the department by the time of his retirement in 2013. 

Within the Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation Roger became one of two postgraduate tutors. It was a time of expansion of postgraduate student numbers and Roger realised that the Department would benefit from a more formalised system of monitoring the student journey through from application to graduation. From this realisation came the establishment of the Departmental Graduate Studies Committee and Progress Review Panels for each student. Subsequently this model was adopted almost unchanged for the whole College. Roger’s concern for the students was paramount, though he always remained supportive of his colleagues, the Department, and the University as a whole.

Roger was also a long-standing member of the Intercalated BSc Committee until his retirement. Again his attention to detail and his broad scientific knowledge was invaluable as he reviewed the projects. His sense of responsibility to the students, to make sure their projects were sufficiently challenging but achievable, and that they could be assured of support and good supervision, was exemplary.

On his retirement in November 2013, Roger was awarded the title of Emeritus Reader.

Roger was a modest man who, nevertheless, commanded the respect and admiration of colleagues and students alike. He touched many lives and his influence continued long after his retirement and endures to this day.

Following his retirement, Roger moved to Cornwall where he died on 9 April 2022 leaving his daughter Ellen and son Frank.

Dr Alan Bevington writes:

I had the good fortune to work with Roger for a number of years on the very highly regarded MSc course which he created in the University of Leicester Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation. I was always very impressed with what he did, not only with the extremely high calibre of his research and teaching, but also the enormous care and sensitivity that he showed to his students and colleagues. 

It was a great loss to the department and to the university and to his field of immunology when he retired. I was particularly impressed with his ability to explain to an audience the importance of the research that he was doing. I recall a particularly memorable Department of Surgery Monday morning seminar (about islet cell transplantation for the treatment of diabetes) in which the surgeon who was scheduled to deliver the seminar failed to turn up. The Professor of Surgery turned to Roger, who had been heavily involved in the immunology research on this project, and asked him at a minute’s notice to deliver the seminar instead.  Without flinching he proceeded to give the finest and most lucid lecture that I have ever heard – all the more impressive because it was completely spontaneous with no preparation, no notes and no visual aids apart from a blackboard - a clear testament to his intellect and ability.

Dr Shaun Cowley writes:

As well as being a well-known academic scientist, Roger was also known across the University as a keen and enthusiastic golfer. He was a member at Humberstone Heights and served a term as club captain. For many years he was also a member of the Leicester University Golf Society (LUGS), eventually becoming captain and treasurer for well over a decade. He would welcome everyone to LUGS, no matter your age or ability, staff or students, with a smile and make them feel at home. He will be greatly missed by all members who remember his wit and charm out on the course and in the bar afterwards. Since 2016 LUGS has played annually for the Roger James Trophy. When LUGS next meets we will raise a glass to our departed friend and former captain, Roger James.

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