The Parkinson’s community in Scotland, and beyond, has lost one of its giants with the passing of Professor Ken Bowler. Ken revolutionised the relationship between researchers and people living with Parkinson’s
Ken's incredible legacy includes:
helping establish the Parkinson's UK Research Support Network
founding the pioneering Edinburgh Research Interest Group
creating globally-renowned annual Edinburgh Parkinson's Lecture
inspiring researchers and erasing the line between scientist and patient
developing the Edinburgh Branch and influencing the charity's work across Scotland and beyond
The Parkinson’s community in Scotland, and beyond, has lost one of its giants with the passing of Professor Ken Bowler. Ken revolutionised the relationship between researchers and people living with Parkinson’s.
Following a short illness, Ken died on Monday 14 October, ten days after his 76th birthday.
Originally from Luton, Ken was an eminent particle physicist and retired as Professor of Physics from the University of Edinburgh in 2005.
Shortly after retiring, Ken was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and became heavily involved in the vibrant Edinburgh Branch of Parkinson’s UK. And using his wealth of professional experience he took specific interest in Parkinson’s research.
“Incredible legacy to the Parkinson's community”
As a volunteer with the charity, Ken brought his enthusiasm for research and his experiences as a person with Parkinson's to the task of assessing applications for research funding.
He played a vital role in establishing the charity's national Research Support Network - which inspires people affected by Parkinson's to get involved in research. The Network is now approaching 6,000 strong and thriving.
Claire Bale, Head of Research at Parkinson’s UK, said:
“Ken was a very special person. Hugely knowledgeable, generous and kind. He was a collaborator, a listener and do-er, he never wanted to be centre stage. He has left an incredible legacy to the Parkinson's community that will continue to bring people together in the quest for a cure.”
In 2010 Ken and Patrick Mark, Edinburgh Branch Chair, met with researcher Dr Tilo Kunath and discussed the novel idea of creating a world class annual lecture in Edinburgh, and a regular Edinburgh Research Interest Group (ERIG).
Together they drew on the prestige of the University’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and the support of the Edinburgh Branch of Parkinson’s UK, to give new inspiration to researchers, people with Parkinson’s and their families.
Dr Kunath recalls how Ken’s persistence, professionalism and leadership ensured ERIG would be, firstly, a success and then subsequently a model that could be followed elsewhere:
“Ken worked tirelessly, most often behind the scenes, to engage the Parkinson’s community with research and researchers. He travelled the country to help other cities set up ‘RIGs’. We, the Parkinson’s community, have a lot to thank Ken for. He did a tremendous job at erasing the line between scientist and patient, and I am very grateful for that.”
There are now eight Parkinson’s UK Research Interest Groups across the UK based on Ken’s Edinburgh model and there are plans for more.
“Challenged and extended the horizons of our thinking, our scope for ambition, and our courage for commitment”
Ken’s roles with the Edinburgh Branch of the charity included the co-ordination of internationally-acclaimed public research lectures.
The eighth lecture took place two weeks before Ken died and it was fitting that his work for the Branch was honoured that evening with the announcement of a new bursary bearing Ken’s name being established for young researchers in Edinburgh.
In an open letter from Edinburgh Branch Chair David Adams, Ken and the audience were told:
"You give a powerful and continuing stimulus to the world-class specialists at work in Edinburgh and further afield, connecting researchers more strongly than ever with the people whose lives they are working to improve.You challenge and extend the horizons of our thinking, our scope for ambition, and our courage for commitment.”
Katherine Crawford, Services Director at Parkinson’s UK, was the charity’s leader in Scotland during the time Ken flourished. She said:
"Ken’s intelligent approach and broadminded perspective meant that he could always see the bigger picture, and that has really helped the charity develop in all aspects of its work in Scotland. We will all miss him very much."
“When the discovery of a cure comes, and it will come, it will be thanks to the efforts of people like Ken Bowler”
Annie Macleod, Scotland Director of Parkinson’s UK concluded: “The Parkinson’s community in Scotland was enriched by Ken’s presence. Though his place can never be filled we work hard to ensure his legacy thrives. Scotland is at the leading edge of Parkinson’s research and when the discovery of a cure comes, and it will come, it will be thanks to the efforts of people like Ken Bowler.”
Ken is survived by two daughters.