Death of former University of Limerick President

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Former UL President Professor Roger G.H. Downer who died over the weekend.

FORMER President of the University of Limerick Professor Roger Downer whose death was announced yesterday (Sunday), was remembered as a gentle soul who always gave 100 per cent to everything he was involved in.

Professor Downer, (79), who was living in Nenagh and was the second president of UL, died on Saturday and will be buried in Castletown Cemetery, Portroe tomorrow (Tuesday) following funeral service at St Flannan’s Church of Ireland, Killaloe.

Born in Belfast in 1942, Prof Downer was educated at the Methodist College Belfast before going on to Queens University Belfast to study science, and University of Western Ontario, where he studied for a PhD and was awarded a FEJ Fry Gold medal of Canadian Society of Zoologists.

The majority of his academic career was spent at University of Waterloo, where he was awarded the university’s annual Distinguished Teacher Award; he had sabbatical leaves at Hokkaido University in Japan and Oxford University.

From 1998 to 2006, Prof Downer held the positions of President and Vice Chancellor at UL and oversaw the growth of student numbers, research productivity and a physical expansion of the campus footprint, following the departure of founding president Prof Ed Walsh.

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Prof Downer held a number of non-executive director roles including chairman of the Irish Peace Institute, Munster Rugby Board, JP McManus All Ireland Scholarships, the Irish Rugby Players Association Player Services Council, Hunt Museum and Foynes Flying Boat Museum.

UL President Professor Kerstin May said that Professor Downer led the university through an extraordinary period of growth and development in his eight years at the helm of the institution.

“He elevated the position of research at UL with the establishment of a Vice President Research role and ultimately achieved a five-fold increase in research income during his presidency.  He placed equal importance on teaching and introduced Ireland’s first Dean of Teaching and Learning position at UL.

“It was under Professor Downer’s leadership that University of Limerick expanded its main campus across the River Shannon into Clare and the first bridge linking Limerick and Clare in over 200 years was built.”

Professor Downer was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2004, six years into his term as UL President.

“Roger was determined to fight the illness and was known to come to work at UL directly from chemo sessions. He ultimately made the decision to step down as UL President to continue his battle with cancer in 2006 but not before he delivered on many of the projects he had worked so hard on”, Prof May added.

“On the day of his resignation UL received notice of approval to establish a medical school,” said Professor Kerstin Mey.

“We are very fortunate to have had Roger Downer’s dedication and drive for University of Limerick.  He has left an indelible mark on this institution and on our community.   On behalf of the entire UL community”.

A book of condolence will be open at UL’s Plassey House from Monday 21st November.

The Downer family requested that any donations, in lieu of flowers, would be made to the Irish Cancer Society.

Prof Downer is survived by his wife Jean, son Kevin, daughters Katie and Tara.