Tribute to Professor John Goldman

02th January 2014

Professor John Goldman was the heartbeat of Leuka. He was our inaugural chairman for 31 years, and the pillar upon which our charity was built.

memorial of john goldman

Leuka was founded in 1982 by one of John’s patients, Lester Cazin, whose dying wish was to find a cure for leukaemia by funding research. At first John was doubtful about what could be achieved but, to everyone’s astonishment, within the first two years of the genesis of Leuka, they had raised an impressive £150,000.

John’s fundraising hat for Leuka remained firmly in place – and in 1998 a capital appeal was launched by the Lord Mayor of London which, together with matched funding, raised a staggering £10 million to build a flagship facility for leukaemia research and treatment. Named after one of Professor Goldman’s former patients, The Catherine Lewis Centre opened its doors in 2002.

John’s vision for the Centre was a place where it would be possible to deliver the best treatment and clinical facilities, in close proximity to one of the most dynamic research groups in the country. He wanted to see the latest research breakthroughs brought from bench to bedside as quickly as possible.

As the glowing tributes from his professional colleagues around the world attest, John was a truly inspirational leader – particularly in his specialism, chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). During his lifetime he witnessed great strides in the treatment of blood cancers and, with funding from Leuka, his team was able to remain at the forefront of major developments that have revolutionised the treatment available for thousands of patients. His contribution to science and medicine over the 20th and 21st century has been immense.

In the 1980’s John and his team pioneered the use of bone marrow transplant as a successful treatment for CML, establishing the curability of a disease that had previously been regarded as fatal. John often recalled that as a student he’d been told: “chronic myeloid leukaemia will never be cured” and “it’s a waste of time trying”.  But, not only did John perfect effective bone marrow transplantation using sibling donors, he went on to develop the technique using non-related donors – making a potential cure more widely available than could ever have been imagined.

By the end of the 1990’s, with Leuka’s support, John and his team were part of an international effort to develop a revolutionary new form of therapy, emerging from the discovery of the role of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI’s) in treating CML. John’s team led a pioneering programme using TKI’s to treat CML patients at the Hammersmith – the first institute in the UK to have access to these new drugs. True to form, John ignored the views of the sceptics who said “they won’t work long term” and today many patients live a normal life by taking a daily pill, and with effective monitoring some are completely cured and able to live drug free.

As well as being remembered for his enormous contribution to medical and scientific research, John will also be remembered as a great mentor – fostering teamwork and collaboration. He believed passionately that Leuka should support young scientists and provide an environment within which future talent could be nurtured and inspired. Under John’s visionary leadership Leuka has been privileged to play a role in some key developments in the battle against cancer – many of which have revolutionised the prognosis for thousands of patients around the world.

John’s ever gracious and charming manner means his many friends, colleagues, patients and fellow supporters of Leuka – from far afield, will remember him fondly. He will be deeply missed. But, despite our deep sadness at his death, we are more determined than ever to raise funds to find new cures for cancer – the cause to which John dedicated his life. 

Personal reflections from David Lewis, Leuka Trustee

“Throughout the time of Catherine’s illness, John Goldman was a rock next to which we could all shelter.”

“Hannah and I first met John Goldman in 1987 when our daughter, Catherine, was diagnosed with leukaemia and she was referred to Hammersmith Hospital.

Within the context of such tragic circumstances, John Goldman was the finest doctor one could have wished to meet. He was erudite, warm and kind. He was re-assuring about the extent of the possibilities. When it emerged that there was no bone marrow match for Catherine from her brother and sisters he was able to reassure her that nevertheless everything possible would be done.

Throughout the time of Catherine’s illness, John Goldman was a rock next to which we could all shelter. We knew, and Catherine knew, that without a “match” in those days there was no real chance of survival. The leukaemia drug Imatinib was more than ten years away.

Through to 1991, when Catherine’s leukaemia ran its course, John was the man whom we could all look to for some reassurance, even in the face of impending tragedy. His knowledge and experience always left a small window of hope that something might be found in time. In those days “unmatched” transplants didn’t work and autograph transplants only worked with the greatest rarity.

John became a good friend to Hannah and me. I used to say to him “I wished I had got to know you in different circumstances”.  We were near contemporaries and his devotion to his patients and all the research that could be directed at finding more answers was the subject of untold admiration. 

CLC before

During the mid 1990s we began discussions about whether we might work with him in raising funds to help the treatment of and find a cure for leukaemia. A small charity that was run within Hammersmith, ­Leuka, ­was taken up and Hannah chaired the Lord Mayor’s Appeal for 1998/1999, which raised over £5 million for Leuka, and together with Government funds, The Catherine Lewis Centre for leukaemia treatment and research at Hammersmith Hospital was conceived and built, and operates to this day. 

I became a Trustee of Leuka, which John chaired, and Hannah continued with major fundraising efforts. Several million pounds have subsequently been raised year by year towards treatment and research for leukaemia in all respects.  John’s guidance was always crucial and, as Trustees we looked to him at all times for advice and wisdom.  Leuka as a charity in general, and The Catherine Lewis Centre in particular, remain lasting tributes to John, quite apart from the outstanding work he carried out throughout his career. 

We shall miss him enormously. He devoted his life to seeking to prolong life for those who had leukaemia and related illnesses. Many thousands of people and their families have cause to be grateful to him. His memory looms large and his life should be celebrated.” 

Personal reflections from Chris Corbin, Leuka Vice Chairman

“I feel supremely privileged to have known John, firstly as a patient, secondly as a fundraiser for Leuka, and eventually as his Vice Chairman.”

“Many more eminent than I have already written eloquently about Professor John Goldman’s lifetime of achievements; his influence on, and contribution to, the world of leukaemia research is unquestionably of huge historic significance.

Instead I would like to reflect on my experience as a patient. By the time John saw me successfully through a non-related donor transplant, his rather unconventional ward rounds were legendary; appearing late on a Sunday night in his dinner jacket with tie undone – it was then that I realised John was never off duty. For me he was a calming and reassuring influence – always measured in his approach, considerate, but to the point. He engendered faith and confidence but was also nicely eccentric.

During our many years of fundraising together John was always the mainstay, sending out constant reminders about the cause and extoling the positive effects we could have – given time and money.  He mentored me in terms of encouragement, education and support, and was ever available for a chat or advice, when needed. It was with great pride that I accepted his invitation to become a Trustee of Leuka and, over time, his Vice Chairman. We worked together with others in shaping and restructuring the charity to become more effective.

John’s counsel, wisdom and passion for the cause – along with his love of quoting Latin and Shakespeare and his wicked sense of humour – made him an intriguing companion and friend. The world is a poorer place without John but his legacy will be felt by generations to come.”

Please find below links to some of the many fitting tributes that have been written about John. 

A message “Remembering John” written by his family

The Guardian

The Independent

Imperial College London

Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR)

European Hematology Association (EHA)

Anthony Nolan

International Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia Foundation (ICMLF)

European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT)

Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research (LLR)

The Lancet


CML Support

European School of Haematology

The World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA)