A couple of months back, my institute hosted a group of scientists from the University of Brighton and Emory University, who had come over to explore the possibilities of collaborating on a research project on enteric fever and its environmental, behavioral and biological determinants. We spent a couple of days trampling through the alleys of Kolkata slums, exploring potential areas to test for the presence of tell tale microbial signatures which would tell us that the pathogen of the dreaded enteric fever was lurking in the waters of the city. One of the researchers in the team, a tall and mild-mannered scientist managed to win us all over with his wit, energy and unending reserves of experience of working in several developing countries, to which he compared and contrasted the experience of walking and working in Kolkata. Prof. Huw Taylor, from the University of Brighton, never missed a beat, as he skipped across all the puddles and potholes on our explorations of the alleyways of Kolkata.
A few days ago, one of our collaborators from Emory shocked us when he broke the news that Prof. Taylor was suffering from a terminal diagnosis. Such was Prof. Taylor’s energy on his trip to Kolkata, that we never had an inkling that he was ailing or recovering from a sickness. So, to us, this was a bolt from the blue. Even in his last few emails with us, he bubbled over with enthusiasm, as he said that the work was too important to be stopped.
I never got to know him very well, and although he spent but a week in Kolkata, Prof. Taylor left a lasting impression on us all. He took a session on Microbial Source Tracking, a session that I entered with the trepidation that it would be something so totally out of my league that I would not understand a word. To my utter surprise, I understood most of the presentation as he kept us all engaged throughout the hour or so he spoke. This went a long way to pare my hesitation of attending basic science lectures, which often fly out of range for my radars! His expression, that he was in “phage heaven”, evoked a lot of laughter (and concern!) from the scientists at the presentation.
Prof. Taylor seemed to have touched a lot of people’s lives with his personal as well as his professional charisma and achievements. The world is indeed a poorer place without him. As one of the (extremely) extended global community of friends, students and admirers of Prof. Taylor, I felt it was necessary to write a few words remembering the larger than life person that he seemed to us.
I would like to apologize in advance if anyone feels that I, with my limited acquaintance of Prof. Taylor, am out of line writing this piece. But I just wanted to convey my respect for a lively person with a razor sharp wit, who had clever quips at the tip of his tongue, even as he prepared to wade through ankle-deep muck, in the hearts of the Kolkata slums.
A fund-raising page has been created in his memory, and the family very generously mentions:
Huw’s family asked the university to help them establish the Professor Huw Taylor Memorial Fund, the proceeds of which will be used to further research in his areas of specialism and also to encourage future generations of researchers. Donations to this fund are requested in lieu of flowers.
You can follow the intuitive page structure to contribute to the fund which has already collected over half the sum it had initially targeted. If you have more questions about it:
To find out ways to give offline and/or if you have any questions about making a donation, please contact Mrs Sam Davies, Director of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have made a very small contribution, and I know it is more symbolic than anything else. However, I think that every bit counts and every bit will be channelled back into research into work that was a central part of his life.
The photographs in the post have been sourced from the Flickr page of Dr. James Ebdon, which he was kind to share with our collaborators from Emory, through whom I sourced the images. If there are any copyright conflicts, please let me know and I shall take the appropriate corrective measures.