September 5th 2018 at St Albans Cathedral
CITATION HONORARY DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF SCIENCE (DSc)
Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to read the citation for the presentation of the honorary award of Doctor of Science on Professor Felix Konotey-Ahulu.
Science is, in essence, a search for the truth. It is this search for truth that has driven Felix to make very significant discoveries in the area of sickle cell disease. As a scientist, he is not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom if it conflicts with his own discoveries. But this has landed him in hot water at times, not least when he was assigned no fewer than four bodyguards when he was the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr Foundation’s award banquet in Philadelphia 1972!* His pointing out the vital distinction between sickle cell trait and sickle cell disease was going to have huge implications for insurance companies, and the organisers were more than a little concerned for his safety.
Felix’s research in the area of sickle cell disease has been groundbreaking. He is the only known scientist to have traced hereditary disease in his own family all the way back to 1670 AD. Having grown up in a family where sickle cell disease was present, his knowledge of the disease even before he went to medical school in the UK was significant. His parents had sickle cell trait, which resulted in his siblings having the disease, although he himself has neither.
Felix’s personal experience and observations therefore qualified him well to question conventional thinking about the causes of sickle cell trait, and seeing the pain and struggles of his siblings has greatly informed the way he views people with the condition. The sickle cell clinic in Ghana of which he was the
Director, at the Korle Bu Hospital, was the largest in the world. In addition, he established the Konotey-Ahulu Genetic Epidemiology Sickle Cell Foundation in 2011 to provide counselling for sufferers, as well as education and research.
The importance of asking questions is something Felix has always been very keen to pass on to his own students – encouraging them to learn ‘how to think’ rather than simply learning ‘what to think’ in order to pass exams. This ties in with his passion for medical ethics, particularly in the area of genetics. Indeed, one of his caveats is, ‘Medicine without ethics is dangerous!’
Although this honorary doctorate is being awarded for Felix’s involvement in the area of sickle cell disease, he has contributed significantly to other areas of work, including AIDS research, medical ethics and tonal linguistics. He has been very widely published, and a number of his articles have become the definitive studies in their field.
Felix has also authored two books. Of the first, What is AIDS?, Professor Maya Angelou said that it is ‘Compulsive reading. I could not put it down.’ His second, The Sickle Cell Disease Patient, has been described as ‘a commendable addition to the medical literature’.
The contribution of Felix has been publicly acknowledged many times, among which was inclusion in a list of ‘The 100 Greatest Africans of All Time’. In this list he keeps esteemed company, with names such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Kofi Annan. Among many other distinguished awards, he has received the Dr Martin Luther King Junior Foundation Award for outstanding research in sickle cell anaemia, and the African American Museum in Philadelphia Humanitarian Award in 2007, in recognition of his exceptional contribution to the people of Africa and to the world.
Felix says that he has a soft spot for St Albans, as his second job after qualifying as a doctor at London University’s Westminster Hospital School of Medicine was as house surgeon in 1960 to three eminent surgeons at St Albans City Hospital. He remembers this fondly as a most memorable period in his career. Twenty years later, the hospital was privileged to count Felix as a locum physician in medicine for the elderly in the 1980s. He is now resident in Hertfordshire.
And Felix has a very diverse range of other talents too. If you have a moment, do search the internet for the millennium hymn he wrote – it’s called ‘Time was Created’ and available on YouTube, and is well worth a listen!
Chancellor, in recognition of outstanding achievement I ask that you confer the honorary award of Doctor of Science upon Professor Felix Konotey-Ahulu.
*See British Medical Journal 2007, July 28 Volume 335, page 210
“Four bodyguards and the perils of unmasking scientific truths” by F I D Konotey-Ahulu http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/335/7612/210
UH Hon. DSc Acceptance Speech Sept. 5 @ St Albans Cathedral
Lord Salisbury, Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, Lord Ribeiro of Achimota and Ovington and Past President of the Royal College of Surgeons, Graduates, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen! Hearty Congratulations to those who studied Allied Health Professions including Midwifery and have emerged so successful. Very Well Done! I sincerely wish you well for your future endeavours.
Regarding myself, ever since I got the letter of the Vice-Chancellor inviting me to receive an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree one word has been uppermost in my head – and that word is GRATITUDE. Allow me explain: Exactly one week after leaving Achimota School on completing my Cambridge School Certificate Exams in the Gold Coast (Ghana) my brother Jerry and I were struck by lightning on the football field. He was killed instantly. I was spared, with just a facial burn. Jerry was 17 years of age, I was 19. Why Jerry? And not me? I will never know the answer to that question, but one thing I do know, GOD Almighty has His hand on me. And my gratitude to HIM knows no bounds.
Three and half years after the lightning bolt I did the 12 days’ voyage by Boat (Elder Dempster Lines) to England to study Medicine. Can you believe that I was taught by the best of the best? At London University’s Westminster Hospital School of Medicine Clinicians of Royalty were my teachers notably Sir Richard Bayliss who became Physician of Her Majesty the Queen. Any bedside manners I possess I was taught by Sir Richard. You had better have bedside manners with the Head of the Commonwealth. My first job as a doctor was in London at Bethnal Green Hospital. Walking into Ward B3South I introduced myself to the nurse. “Hello, I am the new doctor, Felix”. Quick came the response “Hello. I am Sister Moss”. “So, what can I call you?” I asked hopefully. “You can call me Sister Moss” she replied. Actually, her name was Rosemary. I remember that Monday morning June 15 1959 as if it was yesterday because on Easter Monday 23rd April 1962 Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones married Felix and Rosemary Moss at Westminster Chapel. She is a staunch believer in The Lord Jesus Christ. We have 3 children, 11 grandchildren, and 2 great grand-children. Just Google “Felix and Rosemary” and you’ll see our 50th Wedding Anniversary 2012 clip. Darling I thank GOD for you! You are just as beautiful today as when I cast eyes on you 59 years 3 months ago. I don’t know how I could have achieved what I have done without you.
GRATITUDE: I stress this again as I end. I owe so much to more people than I have time to mention; people who made sacrifices for me like Professor Hermann Lehmann (Cambridge University), Professor Bela Ringelhann the Hungarian, Dr Kobla Gbedemah (Ghanaian Laboratory Expert) – men who have been long dead but whom I shall never forget. Also, Institutions that put their weight behind me like Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board, Ghana’s Managing Trustees of The VALCO Fund, and University of Cape Coast in Ghana.
Dear Graduates, when you see someone struggling in life and you reach down and lift them up, and you tell them “I will help carry your load”, you have an impact beyond anything you can imagine. One big thing I learnt coming to England in the early 1950s was that every privilege carried a responsibility. Never forget, Ladies and Gentlemen, that you have had privileges in life. Please, please, learn to help those less privileged than you. If I have achieved anything it is because I have been enabled by others to stand on the shoulders of giants. It has been a privilege to share this occasion with you. Lord Salisbury, I thank University of Hertfordshire for this honour done me. And I thank GOD Almighty in whose hands my very breath is for longevity.