Celebrating a champion of health research

News / General
By Mary Anne Beaudette

Bridge-builder, visionary, cherished mentor, brilliant researcher – these are just some of the ways his colleagues describe Dr. Roger Deeley as he steps down from his combined roles of Vice President, Health Sciences Research, Kingston Health Sciences Centre, President & CEO, KGH Research Institute and Vice-Dean, Research, Faculty of Health Sciences (Queen’s).

Dr. Deeley was recruited to Queen’s University in 1980 from the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Over the next three-plus decades he quietly transformed the health research landscape at Queen’s University and its partnering research hospitals. 

“Profound and seminal – that’s the only way to describe how important Roger has been,” says Dr. Richard Reznick, Dean of Health Sciences at Queen’s University.  

“First and foremost, he is a world-renowned cancer biologist. But more than that is his incredible capacity to understand multiple areas of investigation. He is probably the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever met on research matters and research structures in Canada.” 

“Most significantly, Roger has been the glue that has held together the research community, and cemented our relationships - among Queen’s, with other institutions, and with KHSC. He has shown us the importance of us proceeding in lockstep as a unified group of university and hospitals.” 

Dr. Deeley’s early, collaborative work with Dr. Susan Cole, a colleague and leading cancer researcher, around the molecular mechanisms that cause resistance to cancer drugs, produced major discoveries and commercial developments. At the same time, he worked to grow Queen’s cancer research capacity and profile.

Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer, award-winning cancer researcher and former Director of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group's Investigational New Drug (IND) Program, worked with Dr. Deeley and other colleagues to bring the dream of a cancer research centre to life.   “Roger played a central role and worked tirelessly to create the Queen's Cancer Research Institute -- both in terms of the development of the idea and organizational plan for the institute, and also in terms of the fundraising and building a home for the institute,” she says.  

During this time Dr. Deeley also served as Vice-President and then Director of Research for Cancer Care Ontario. “Provincially and nationally he was respected for his opinions and thoughtful leadership,” says Dr. John Fisher, former Interim Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s, and a longtime research colleague. 

In 2007 he shifted his focus from research to more strategic roles.  “Roger brought together the model of interdisciplinary, cross-departmental research,” Dr. Fisher says. “He put research front and centre.”

Dr. Deeley drove the Faculty of Health Sciences’ visionary strategic plan, and his novel clinician-scientist recruitment program attracted 13 stellar clinical researchers from around the world with specialties in neuroscience, respiratory, cardiac, cancer, global health and molecular biology. His championing of brick-and-mortar facilities nearly doubled the footprint of research space at both KGH and Hotel Dieu sites. 

“Roger led us through periods of dramatic change, and was a catalyst for collaboration between hospitals and the university,” says Dr. David Pichora, President and CEO of Kingston Health Sciences Centre and an orthopedic surgeon who also does research.  

“Through determination, resilience and persistence, he raised the bar for research at both hospitals. He built the KGH Research Institute, stimulated a strategy for its counterpart at Hotel Dieu, and was a major driver of the W.J. Henderson Centre for Patient-Oriented Research. He worked very hard to bring the hospitals and university together to see things through each others’ eyes. None of that would have happened without him. He had a huge impact.” 

Dr. Deeley also understood the pragmatic needs of researchers, says Vic Sahai, Director of Research at Hotel Dieu Hospital. “He worked to streamline and harmonize systems and policies between the university and the hospitals so we weren’t duplicating. He helped us see each other as collaborators. Instead of competing with each other, we complete each other.”

Industry was an important part of his vision, says Dr. Seth Chitayat, Director of Health Research Partnerships at Queen's. “He understood the growing need for partnerships with the private sector, to extend the value of our research and to foster new growth and program development. Innovative programs here such as the iKnife or the national Lyme disease network wouldn’t have taken off as they did if not for his thoughtfulness and support.” 

“What amazes me is his ability to navigate all sides – the university, the hospitals, and clinical research,” says Dr. Steve Smith, Director of Research, Faculty of Health Sciences. “He was very comfortable walking in those shoes. He had a seamless understanding of those environments.”

His other gift was his humanity, Dr. Smith adds. “Despite his international reputation, and the positions he held, he was humble and easy-going, unassuming, with excellent interpersonal skills. He cares about the individuals involved inside the vision and the effect on them.” 

Researchers and staff echo these sentiments. “Dr. Deeley has been incredibly supportive of research in general, and supportive of me and my research projects and staff,” says Diane Lougheed, Professor of Medicine (Respirology). “He’s always been quick to respond to queries, listen to questions/concerns and help us navigate new systems as needed.  He has been a tremendous resource, always approachable and willing to help me navigate new research processes and handle unique situations.” 
“Dr. Deeley supported individuals across disciplines to collaborate in writing a large grant for maternal and child health and he encouraged us to ‘go for it’ in creating a Global Health Research Collaborative (ARCH),” says Dr. Heather Aldersey, Canada Research Chair in Disability-Inclusive Development. “As an early career researcher I am so appreciative about how open and accessible Dr. Deeley was to me. In spite of a very busy schedule, he always was able to make time for me and my colleagues when we needed his insight or advice. He is a great leader and mentor and we will miss him!

“Roger’s vision for the W. J. Henderson Centre, and the KGH research Institute have given us tremendous opportunities going forward, and a footprint for success,” says Dr. Stephen Vanner, Professor of Medicine and Director of the Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit. 

“He has been a fabulous boss,” says Gladys Smith, who was Dr. Deeley’s assistant at Queen’s for more than 20 years. “I appreciate his honesty and integrity. He stands by people and backs them up. I could not have asked for a more supportive or caring person.”