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Remembering Malcolm Hodgson, 1942-2011

25 February 2011
Appeared in BioNews 597
Malcolm Hodgson, 1942-2011 (former Business Manager and Chair of the Advisory Committee at the Progress Educational Trust)Malcolm Hodgson - Business Manager at the charity that publishes BioNews, the Progress Educational Trust (PET), and Chair of PET's Advisory Committee - has died of cancer aged 68.

Malcolm, who died peacefully at home on Saturday 19 February 2011, was a wonderful, hard-working and dedicated Friend of PET and will be greatly missed. He was also devoted to his family, and our thoughts are with his wife Jenny and their children Alastair, James and Sarah.

As our (volunteer and unpaid) Business Manager, Malcolm advised us on strategy, financial and accounting matters, giving us the benefit of his 30 years' prior experience establishing and expanding commercial businesses in developing countries. When he retired from that career, he pursued his interest in genetics and ethics.

His dissertation for an MSc at Imperial College London, completed in 2003, was entitled: 'Is there a sound moral basis for parents to undertake prenatal selection of genetic traits for their children? If so, should such selection be permitted?' These questions were, and are, very close to PET's heart.

While completing his dissertation, Malcolm became a Friend of PET and approached Juliet Tizzard - then Director of the charity - expressing his desire to help. He suggested a careful, detailed review of the organisation and what it was trying to achieve. A sentence from his email at the time sums up Malcolm's approach - direct, clear and deeply committed. 'I do not seek payment for the work, I am not a consultant, I have little experience of charities but I am a Friend and a fervent believer in what PET is about.'

Malcolm Hodgson, 1942-2011 (former Business Manager and Chair of the Advisory Committee at the Progress Educational Trust)

Malcolm joined our Advisory Committee in 2004, and quickly became an indispensable contributor to PET's work. His dedication and wisdom during profound financial difficulties in 2006 and 2007 were crucial, and there is no doubt in our minds that PET would never have survived this period were it not for his contribution. He was steadfast, knowing as cyclists do that you keep pedalling or fall over. That said, Malcolm's own preferred mode of transport - consistent with the more colourful side of his personality - was an extremely fast yellow sports car.

Malcolm's skill and knowledge when it came to PET's management and accounts were second to none, and made him the Sir John Harvey-Jones of all four of the PET Directors he worked alongside. His invaluable assistance when preparing grant applications meant we could always be confident that our budget would withstand the most rigorous scrutiny. It was typical of Malcolm's dedication to PET that even when he was housebound and knew he was terminally ill, he insisted upon having meetings at his home with our auditor, in order to finalise our accounts.

But Malcolm was more than just a numbers man. His relentless curiosity about science and ethics informed all of his work with PET, as well as his concurrent work as a member of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust's Clinical Ethics Committee. He was a great admirer of the radical bioethicist Professor John Harris, and he had a particular interest in the benefits and limits of parental autonomy in assisted conception and genetic selection.

Malcolm would print out each week's edition of BioNews to read, and would sometimes arrive at the office later than scheduled because he had become so engrossed in an article that he had missed his tube stop. Former PET Director Laura Riley recalls how he would bring the PET office to a standstill by bringing up a controversial point about the issue of the day, whereupon everyone would stop what they were doing and argue the merits of it. It was Malcolm who suggested the title of PET's 2008 annual conference, Is the Embryo Sacrosanct? Multi-Faith Perspectives.

When Malcolm became Chair of PET's Advisory Committee, he continued to demonstrate his many skills, including strategic planning and - with his polite insistence that contributions from Advisers should be given precedence over contributions from PET Staff and Trustees - diplomacy. He introduced wine and snacks to evening committee meetings, giving them a convivial atmosphere and making work seem like fun. At the same time, he continued to push us to clarify our aims and reconsider our methods.

At our next Advisory Committee meeting in early March, we will raise a glass to Malcolm's memory. He had big ideas for PET, and wanted its profile to grow until it became a household name. That remains a goal we have every intention of working towards.

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