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William Harkness obituary

·2-min read

My good friend William Harkness, who has died aged 66 of lymphoma cancer, was one of the leading paediatric neurosurgeons of his generation. A caring clinician and gifted surgeon, he was also enormous fun and a great friend.

William was born in Aldershot, the son of Jack and June (nee Pearce) Harkness. His father was a land agent and his parents ran a hotel in Anglesey, which he described as being like Fawlty Towers. William was educated at Eton and qualified in medicine at the University of Birmingham in 1979. He did neurosurgical training at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, completing in 1989.

He was then on rotation between Atkinson Morley hospital in Wimbledon and Great Ormond Street and the National Hospital for Neurosurgery and Neurology. He spent six months at UCLA in Los Angeles in 1991, returning to specialise in epilepsy surgery at Great Ormond Street and the National.

It was an operation he performed on an epileptic young man that led to our meeting. The parents had organised a trek to raise money for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neuroscience, where William worked at the time, as a thank you for making their son well. I met William in a tent in Nepal. We were both more than 6ft tall and neither of us was slight. The nights were uncomfortable, but we stayed friends and went on two further treks to that beautiful country. He became dedicated to Nepal and its people, giving generously of his time and money, particularly in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake.

William retired from clinical practice in 2014 but continued to be an inspiring speaker. In 2016 he become president of the International Society of Pediatric Neurosurgeons. In 2018 he co-founded InterSurgeon, a charity promoting international collaboration and linking surgeons across the world online so skills and knowledge can be fairly shared. InterSurgeon will be a lasting memorial to a great man.

He married Philippa Lubomirski in 1982. She survives him as do their four children, Fran, Ed, Gabi and Letitia, their grandchildren, Arlo, Joanie, Betsy, Peggy and Ari, and his sister, Nicola.

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