Marking Professor David Clark’s Retirement from the University of Glasgow

Published on: Author: Naomi Richards 1 Comment

To mark David Clark’s retirement at the end of September 2020, I thought it would be fitting to take a moment to reflect on his career from the perspective of a range of colleagues who have worked with him in different ways over the years. David has achieved so much over his long career in academia. I start this blog with some personal reflections on the last four years since I have got to know him. I will start at the end of his career and leave it to others to give you a flavour of the beginning.

David set up the Glasgow End of Life Studies Group in 2014 when he was awarded a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award. I heard about the Group when I was working at UWS and colleagues there were discussing the extraordinary findings from his ‘Imminence of Death’ study. A quantitative study examining the death records in allScottish hospitals at a single ‘census’ date, the team found that 30% of hospital patients will die within a year, and 10% on thatadmission. This was such an important revelation in terms of what goes on in hospitals; the figures left no room for doubt that death and dying is their core business. The paper made waves in policy circles, providing the data to support the case for more investment in, and clinical attention on, end of life care in hospitals.  

As I have got to know David, I realise that the imminence of death study says quite a lot about him as a researcher. He is interested in bold projects which make a statement about the macro picture; in research which goes for the jugular and doesn’t tinker around the edges. It is quite fitting that David’s work on developing the World Map of Palliative Care, now in its 3rditeration, is used as an Impact Case Study for our University. With so many social scientists shying away from making claims about the big picture, David has the confidence to continue to stake a claim for it and insist on social science having something useful to contribute to it.    

I have worked with David on a number of research projects over the last four years, most notably on two Wellcome case studies, one about Death Café and one about the relationship between palliative care and assisted dying. When I arrived at Glasgow University in 2016, the team was already doing work on the taxonomy of end of life interventions, and David flattered me by drawing on my work on self-directed interventions. He immediately brought me into the fold and found me a place in the team. David encouraged and supported me as I found my feet in my first lectureship and was always there when I needed advice. 

Last summer, David, Alistair Hunter and I collaborated on a Wellcome research proposal to apply a robust social science lens to Centenarian studies, vastly dominated by biomedical research. Going through the process with David meant I got to see first-hand his brilliance when he has the bit between his teeth. 

I have learnt so much from David over the time we have worked together. I am honoured that he has put his trust in me to lead the Glasgow End of Life Studies Group and there are grand plans afoot for the development of the Group in the years ahead. Whatever happens, we will always stay true to David’s mission, which has been to undertake research which isn’t so embedded that it shies away from bring critical and isn’t too remote that it then lacks relevance to policy and practice. A tough balance to strike, but one that David has become a master at.

From the whole Group, I wish you a most fulfilling retirement David – you will be greatly missed!

A socially distant picnic with members of the Glasgow End of Life Studies Group in Dock Park in Dumfries, 18 Aug 2020

Message from Dr Marian Krawczyk, University of Glasgow

I first ‘met’ David through his writing when I was conducting my PhD ethnographic research in hospital end of life in Western Canada. I was immediately taken by his insights and found myself seeking out, returning to, and drawing from his work throughout my dissertation.

Intrigued I went online and saw that he had started a new research group at the University of Glasgow; his profile stated that he was always interested in hearing from others. Shortly thereafter my plans included an invited talk in Sweden and a conference in Norway. I’m still not sure what made me reach out to him by email, saying that I was going ‘to be in the area’ (what’s a few thousand miles?) and that I’d be pleased if he had time for a coffee for me to thank him personally for his work. He wrote back with enthusiasm, inviting me to use the time to also talk about my research to the larger End of Life Studies Group. It was an inspiring afternoon, and I left scheming about how I could possibly return for longer. I was able to secure a research travel grant to return as a visiting research fellow for six weeks in 2017, and I’ve never really looked back since.

With David’s mentorship and support I was able to win a Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Fellowship which has allowed me to build a career in end of life studies. I am exceptionally grateful to have been part of David’s work at the University of Glasgow. During this time he has provided me countless opportunities to grow my thinking and my academic reputation, and afforded me an academic home amongst a robust and supportive group of peers. David remains one of the most curious, generous, and wide-thinking scholars that I know. While I am quite sad to have him retire, I look forward to showing him the strong legacy he has built into the future, including the success of our new End of Life Studies MSc programme starting in January 2021. 

Message from Professor Tony Walter, University of Bath

Just to wish you all the very best for your retirement David – not that I can imagine you giving up working, but I trust you will enjoy your new incarnation in whatever form it may take. I have greatly valued your stimulation, collegiality and support over many years. Three instances stand out. 

I think my first encounter with your work was reading your doctoral book Between Pulpit and Pew – one of very few studies which included some analysis of funerals and bereavement from the perspective not of medicine or psychology, but folk religion, which chimed with me as I was preparing my own book on funerals. 

Second, fast forward to the late 1990s when you were editing the OUP book series Facing Death and were kind enough to invite me to write a book on bereavement (literally, On Bereavement – I recall you chose the title) – I really appreciated the invitation. 

And then third I came for tea one very rainy afternoon in your delightful summer house in Dalswinton and you invited me to join the advisory group for your Wellcome project, which led to several memorable visits to your beloved Dumfriesshire. Who else would have asked me to lecture on the global future of death in the local village hall?! That spoke volumes about your desire for end of life issues to be at the heart not only of the academy but also of communities.

You perceptively observed that ‘Recent social research on end of life issues has often been too remote to be relevant to policy and practice, or too embedded in the field to stimulate new thinking and innovation.’ Your calling has been to avoid these two populous highways and take a third, more risky, less travelled road, and I am sure your legacy will be for others – at Glasgow and elsewhere – to continue on this road. I salute and thank you.

Message from Emeritus Professor Jane Seymour, University of Sheffield

It’s a great pleasure to share my recollections of working with David over the last 26 years or so, and to reflect on his magnificent contributions to the world of palliative care. 

I first met David in 1994. At that time, he was already a Professor of Sociology at Sheffield Hallam University with an established career in the sociology of religion and family life, and was soon to be appointed Professor of Medical Sociology at the University of Sheffield. Twelve years prior to our meeting, in 1982, he had demonstrated his astonishing academic talents by publishing his Masters thesis as a book:  “Between pulpit and pew: folk religion in a North Yorkshire fishing village”. In the study, he had applied sociological and historical methods to explore the impact of Methodism on village life. The bookincluded an analysis of howMethodism related to rituals and beliefs surrounding death, foreshadowing both the central focusof his future research and its methodological orientations.

I was introduced to David in his capacity as member of the senior leadership team of the fairly recently established Trent Palliative Care Centre (almost always referred to simply as ‘TPCC’), the first purpose-built palliative care research, education and audit unit in the UK, which was located in a leafy suburb of Sheffield next door to St Luke’s hospice. At the time I was working as an intensive care nurse (albeit with some background in academic sociology) and had some rather uninformed ideas about doing research on end of life decision-making in critical care contexts. David was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to discuss these with me. He saw some potential in the ideas and subsequently enabled me to study a PhD under his supervision that was generously supported by TPCC. My later achievements, as is undoubtedly the case with many other graduate students and post docs, are wholly unimaginable without his early involvement and unstintingsupport. 

The thing I recall most clearly about TPCC was the convivial and enlightening research meetings that were frequently facilitated by David. He had a capacity to draw together networks of disparate individuals, inspiring them to work together and discuss constructively and productively issues of common concern in the nascent field of palliative care. I recall that he encouraged a culture in which graduate students were regarded to be equally valuable contributors to the debate as senior clinicians and academics. TPCC was frequently visited by individuals from all over the UK and abroad, creating an exciting scholarly environment. I recall that David coined the word ‘palliateurs’ to describe the many contributors to the community of interest generated at TPCC. 

While David was at TPCC and in the early 1990s, he began to publish regularly on challenges to the hospice model of care that were already occurring as a result of health system and sociodemographic change, describing himself as a critical friend to the movement. Many of these challenges were not seriously discussedby the hospice sectorin England for another 20 yearsor so, when the Commission on the Future of Hospice Carewas convened.

At this time, David began to encourage the application of sociological and public health perspectives to hospice and palliative care at a time when the importance of this was not yet widely understood and the work of the World Health Organisation still not widely known. At his invitation, I was lucky enough to co- author with him a text book Reflections on Palliative Care: Sociological and Policy Perspectives’ to try to fill the gap in the field and address some of these issues, and also to provide a source that students on the Master’s degree in palliative care at TPCC could use.   David has always had an outstanding ability to communicate the value of applying different perspectives or lenses to palliative care, thus enabling others to see the field and its problems anew. One example of this is a paper published in 2002 in the BMJ ‘Between hope and acceptance: the medicalisation of dying’, which has been cited many hundreds of times since its publication. 

David included in ‘Reflections on Palliative Care’some fascinating material on the history of the hospice movement, revealing that his interest in the future viability of the sector was rooted in a deep interest and appreciation of its early beginnings and subsequent evolution.  In 1995, with Neil Small, he had gained funding from the Wellcome Trust for a wholly original research study on the history of the hospice movement. The study had the active support and encouragement of Cicely Saunders, providing the foundation for David’s subsequent critical role as her biographer and editor of her letters. By 2003, 200 interviews had been completed providing an extensive archive of oral history testimonies and related materials, and leading ultimately to several books, papers and related research studies. I was closely involved in one of these studies, a history of cancer pain relief, which was funded by the ESRC. I recall that in our final report to the ESRC, David drew on the words of the famous sociologist C Wright- Mills, to describe cancer pain as a ‘private trouble’ and its transformation over time into a public issue. This neatly captured a concern demonstrated throughout his career to illuminate how problems or phenomena previously thought to be individually or locally bounded, are instead matters of wider public and global concern that require mobilisation of collective and interdisciplinary action.

By 2003 David had moved to Lancaster University to establish the International Observatory on End of Life Care. The aim of the Observatory was to provide clear and accessible research based information about hospice and palliative care provision in the international context. By 2007, the Observatory had described and compared palliative care development in more than 60 countries in Europe and far beyond, and work had begun on the creation of the ‘World Map’ of palliative care, a major and lasting global contribution to the field that was subsequently continued into its third iteration at the University of Glasgow. His presentations of this strand of work and the hospice history project at various International palliative care conferences were characteristically meticulously prepared and communicated with an infectious enthusiasm and scholarly brilliance that few can match. 

David moved to the University of Glasgow in 2009. He established the Glasgow End of Life Studies Group in 2014, with his research on interventions at the end of life as a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator consolidating and expanding his outstanding contribution to the field, marked by the award of an OBE in 2017. Under his guidance the group has rapidly established a reputation as a leading player in end of life research.  

In the last few years it has been a huge pleasure for me to once again work with David on the implications and impact of the Liverpool Care Pathway in the UK and further afield, with one paper published and another in preparation. 

David: I send you every good wish for a long and fulfilling retirement. Thank you for your collegiality, support and friendship over the years, and many, many congratulations on all of your outstanding achievements.

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