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Robert Alexander Harrison Surtees went to St Edmund Hall, Oxford, as an open exhibitioner and qualified in 1980. Following training at Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham and Manchester he came to the UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1986 and progressed rapidly from Wellcome Trust lecturer to professor of paediatric neurology and honorary consultant and ultimately head of the Neurosciences Unit. His PhD on -adenosylmethionine deficiency and demyelination was the foundation of an outstanding career as a clinical scientist, equally at home in the laboratory and patient care. He developed analytical biochemical methods to measure metabolites in body fluids, particularly cerebrospinal fluid, to increase our understanding of demyelination in inborn errors of vitamin B12 and folate metabolism and acute leukaemia, and the role of excitotoxicity in cerebral malaria and disordered amine neurotransmission in early onset movement disorders. The production of his more than 80 papers of seminal importance is sadly cut short by his early death. His work in these areas is internationally recognised.
He also worked clinically and with several research collaborations with the UCL Institute of Neurology, where he also taught developmental neurology to general neurologists.
Robert was a tremendous source of knowledge, inspiration, and support. Despite his formidable intellect, he was modest and generous in his dealings with all he met. Whether it was an issue of neurological mechanisms, genetics, statistics or study design, he would provide expert help. He inspired both respect and affection. In clinical work he was the gold standard opinion on paediatric movement disorders, neurometabolic diseases, and complex disorders. He carried an enormous clinical patient load and remembered salient details of all. He would remain available and supportive of families and children with conditions for which no curative treatment existed.
He was an outstanding teacher in both formal and informal situations, as well as being an outstanding paediatric neurologist of his generation. The world of child neurology has lost someone who is quite irreplaceable.
He leaves a wife, Diane, and two sons, Alexander and George.
Professor of paediatric neurology; head, Neurosciences Unit, UCL Institute of Child Health; and honorary consultant, Great Ormond Street Hospital (b 4 March 1955; q St Edmund Hall, Oxford, 1980; MA, PhD, FRCP (Lond), FRCPCH), d 18 August 2007.