A tribute to Prof Tony Ryan from the APC’s Catherine Stanton and Paul Ross
It was 20 years ago when we wrote a letter to Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) while both still working in Teagasc asking ‘was there someone we could collaborate on an infant health nutrition programme’. We got a letter back saying they were really too busy and had none. Somehow Tony Ryan got hold of this correspondence and the rest is history.
What followed was 20 years of regular visits to Tony’s office at CUMH where he took notes of a list of new ideas for projects. Never a mention of funding, resources or any other obstacles but just good adventurous ideas on how different projects could answer fundamental questions addressing early life microbiome. All this on his sofa and sustained with apples from a bag he had down the side of his desk. The programme grew and each new idea found a funding home, but more importantly some really pioneering work in infant microbiome was accomplished. We even did a successful intervention with one of APC’s probiotics in preterm infants in those early days. Those early visits had Tony challenging students in the real quirky way he does that I am sure many of our colleagues are familiar with. Of course, such progress would not have been possible without CUMH staff such as Carol-Anne O’Shea and other front-line staff plus our own students and post-docs. This vitality has continued with his prodigy Gene Dempsey to this day and has constituted a highly productive team managing large cohorts of mother/baby pairs, which will continue the research for years to come.
But really that’s work, and even though fascinating, Tony was a true friend right from the start and one whose company we relished outside of UCC whenever given the chance to do so – from fishing in Lanzarote to Saturday morning breakfasts on the Blackrock Road. The tie became even tighter as we mentored his son Paul’s PhD – who like his dad decided to take the medical career track after finishing and will also be a star in the future. So, to say we were gutted by the news that Tony has passed away would be a gross understatement, just as we were planning our annual Christmas lunch with Gene and Tony and the mimic team. Tony was one of the most generous, kind and gentle (and egoless) people we have been fortunate to spend time with and our hearts go out to Jo-Ann, Paul and the family at this very sad time.
And lastly, we were absolutely delighted to see Tony honored in this year's Clarivate most-cited researcher lists – he is 1 of only 33 highly cited scientists in Ireland, a fitting testament to the significance of his contribution to the field. He really was such an exceptional person at so many levels.
Catherine Stanton and Paul Ross.