Obituaries

Simon Dafydd Glyn Stephens

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e6491 (Published 31 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6491
  1. Linda M Luxon

Simon Dafydd Glyn Stephens (“Dai”) brought both compassion and academic authority to the previously neglected discipline of adult auditory rehabilitation. As an international authority and outspoken advocate for people with impaired hearing, he spearheaded the development, nationally and internationally, of improved care for adults with hearing impairments. He was instrumental in establishing a new medical specialty, audiovestibular medicine, and contributed to the training of virtually every consultant physician in specialty in the UK.

Stephens was born in Caerfyrddin. Both his parents were teachers, and he developed the academic fascination and rigour that formed the cornerstone of his career. As a young child he spent much time in the company of a district nurse, travelling the countryside in her car. They spoke Welsh together, and from her and a Welsh couple to whom he became very close after the family moved to London, Stephens acquired the lifelong hallmark of his strong Welsh identity and passion for the Welsh language.

He attended Whitgift School in Croydon from 1952 to1959 and then entered Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, where he won the Huxley Prize. His interest in audiology was sparked when, after graduating with a first degree in physiology from London University, he spent a summer vacation as a research Fellow at the University of Iowa in 1962. There he met Professor Ronald Hinchcliffe, a co-founder of audiological medicine, who remained a firm friend and colleague until his death in 2011. On returning to Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, to complete clinical training, his interest in audiology led him to undertake part-time work as an audiometrician in the Department for Ear, Nose, and Throat Medicine.

He held house jobs at Charing Cross Hospital and in the Professorial medical unit at Fulham Hospital, before starting research in the Medical Research Council’s applied psychology unit at Cambridge and the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington. From there he moved, as a clinical research fellow, to the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research at the University of Southampton and was appointed consultant in audiological medicine and head of the Department of Audiological Medicine at the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital in London in 1976. At the time of his appointment, Dai requested secondment to Odense, in Denmark, which was considered the centre of excellence in auditory rehabilitation. This was the start of Stephens’s many and varied international contacts and collaborations, which spanned psychoacoustics, psychology of hearing, balance disorders, genetics, drug trials, a paradigm for optimal auditory rehabilitation, central auditory processing, hearing loss in systemic disease, specific inner ear disorders (including Menière’s disease), ototoxicity, and presbycusis.

Ahead of his time, striving to ensure national equity of access to excellent auditory rehabilitation for all adults, Stephens was successful in assisting in creating several positions for consultant audiological physicians throughout the UK. In 1986, he was appointed director of the MRC Welsh Hearing Institute at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, a position in which he continued to support the many professional disciplines allied to the provision of excellent audiological care and developed an outstanding research programme, while undertaking outreach clinics to the Welsh valleys, in addition to the sophisticated clinical service he headed at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. Stephens had no time for self promotion, arrogance, or bureaucracy, and his reputation as an enthusiastic and approachable teacher, a compassionate clinician, and an internationally recognised researcher rapidly spread. He was sought by junior staff, whose career development he promoted and directed; overseas fellows keen to obtain the unique multidisciplinary training he offered, and senior colleagues, who valued his clinical advice and research collaboration. His opinion was sought nationally by the Department of Health, the Medical Research Council, the Department of Health and Social Security, the British Standards Institute, the Hearing Aid Council, and all the relevant professional medical bodies in the UK. Internationally he trained innumerable research fellows from Australia to Brazil, taught and examined postgraduate students across the globe from Canada to Thailand, and established research collaborations, in virtually every centre he visited.

Stephens was a prolific editor of all the major national and international audiological journals and author or editor of seminal books on auditory disorders and auditory genetics and English language texts in numerous major ENT and audiological medicine books. He contributed more than 400 original papers over his career, and, although he retired from clinical practice in 2005, this did not reduce his prodigious and unique contribution to research and publications.

Stephens commanded national and international professional respect being elected chairman or president of the British Association of Audiological Physicians, the International Association of Audiological Physicians, the International Society of Audiology, and consultant to UNICEF on community rehabilitation programmes. He was an international trustee of the Amplifon Foundation in Italy, president of the International Collegium of Rehabilitative Audiology, and served as President of the Wales Council for Deaf People. He was feted with innumerable honours throughout his career, being awarded travelling fellowships to Poland, France, Italy, and the USA, and prizes by the University of London, the Copernicus Medal of the University of Ferrara, and an honorary diploma of the Polish Society of Audiology and Phoniatrics. He was a guest lecturer at virtually every major audiological conference between 1978 and 2006 and was visiting professor at Gothenburg University and Bristol universities and a faculty member of the Ida Institute in Denmark.

However, this exceptional academic career did not overshadow many other talents and interests. In his youth, he was a keen cyclist and cross country runner, being awarded colours by the United Hospitals Hare and Hounds team. As a student, his fiercely Welsh patriotism led him to promote the Welsh cause for independence, resulting in many weekends spent painting out English language signs with green paint. His political enthusiasm did not escape the notice of the authorities, and he was banned from Wales during the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. The formation of the Welsh Assembly was a source of immense pride for Stephens, who served as a councillor for the Llanmaes community council from 1987 and was chair of Plaid Cymru Llanilltud Fawr and Y Bontfaen from 1986 until his death.

In later life, Stephens was an acknowledged master of the history of ENT medicine and was honorary secretary of the Society for the History of Otolaryngology. He was passionately interested in the environment, both locally in Wales, but also worldwide and, with birdwatching colleagues, was instrumental in the formation of the World Land Trust, leaving a project to preserve the biodiversity in Mexico as a legacy. At a personal level, he was environmentally friendly long before it became fashionable, growing produce and maintaining a veritable farmyard of animals on his welcoming home in Llanmaes.

Stephens’ interests spanned Celtic history, language, and culture, and he met his Breton wife, Janig Bodiou, on a ferry after attending a meeting of the Celtic community. Their marriage, in 1970, led to an extremely happy and fulfilling family life, with visitors struggling to keep track of Breton, Welsh, French, and English, which were all interchangeably used in the family home with his children, Morwena, Erwin, and Rhiannon.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6491

Footnotes

  • Professor of audiovestibular medicine (b 1942; q London 1965; MRCS, DHMSA, FRCP ), died from prostate cancer on 2 July 2012.