Prof Norman Nevin, OBE 

- An Obituary

Prof Norman Nevin, OBE

It is with great sadness that we record the death of our distinguished President, Prof Norman Nevin OBE, on June 28th 2014.  Prof Nevin was an unrivalled source of advice, direction and inspiration to all of us associated with the Centre for Intelligent Design.

Prof Nevin born in Belfast in 1935 and was raised in the Crumlin Road area of the city. He was educated at the Belfast Boys Model School and Grosvenor High School, and then studied medicine at the Queens University of Belfast (QUB) where he won the class prize in each of the subjects he studied.

After graduating from the Faculty of Medicine from Queens in 1957, Norman took a series of appointments in the Royal Victoria Hospital and QUB.  In 1965 he was appointed to a Medical Research Council Clinical Fellowship at the Clinical Genetics Research Unit at the Institute of Child Health in London and Great Ormond St Hospital.  Here he was to develop a lifelong interest and expertise in the field of genetics which was at that time a fledgling discipline. He was able to pursue that interest further at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

In 1967 Norman returned to Belfast with his family to set up the Medical Genetics Centre in Northern Ireland.  The following year he was appointed as Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Human Genetics.  He also became the head of the Northern Regional Genetics Service.

Prof Nevin was not only the leader in the field of genetics in Northern Ireland but, as some 300 peer-reviewed publications[1] and many specialist lectures on the subject can attest, he became a national and international expert in this field.  He is known, particularly, for his work in the use of folic acid to reduce the risks of spina bifida and for the identification of the gene which causes cystic fibrosis.

Prof Nevin’s expertise and scholarship in the field of genetics resulted in him serving on a number of national and international committees.  These included the UK Government’s Gene Therapy Advisory Committee which he chaired from 1996 to 2006.  In this role he briefed government ministers and Westminster Parliamentary Committees.  In recognition of his work in this field he was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for Services to Gene Therapy Research.  More recently, on his retirement, Norman was appointed Professor Emeritus in medical genetics at QUB.

Norman also held office in a number of charitable and community organisations including the NI Muscular Dystrophy Group, the NI Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, The Ulster Cancer Foundation, Relate, the Salvation Army, the NI Institute for the Disabled, and the Boy’s Brigade of which he was President.  To all of these enterprises Norman brought clarity, energy and vision, as well as good governance.  Beneath a hard working exterior lay a great sense of humour

Norman was also a member, lay preacher and an elder at Crescent Church, Belfast and in recent years he supervised the extension of this church.  He saw no conflict between his Christian faith and his scientific interests.  He was prominent in arguing for design in nature from a scientific as well as from a philosophical perspective.  Some of his views are to be found in ‘Should Christians Embrace Evolution?’ (IVP 2009), a work to which he contributed as well as being its editor.  It was courageous of a man of his standing to become publicly associated with the Intelligent Design movement, especially as he attracted the inevitable and personal criticism which comes to those who beg to differ with the scientific consensus on origins.  We are deeply indebted to him for his work with C4ID.

It is hard to do justice in the scope of a short article to the life and work of Prof Norman Nevin.  He excelled in education, in medicine, in research and in teaching.  As a scientist, he played a leading role in his chosen field of genetics, both in the UK and internationally. He was a giant in every field in which he engaged, yet remained humble, attentive and respectful to those with whom he came in contact.  He was an accomplished writer, occasional broadcaster and committed church leader, but most of all a loving husband, father and grandfather.  He is survived by his wife and school-time sweetheart, Jean, and by their family and grandchildren.

We will miss him enormously.

This article was prepared by Dr Alastair Noble and is an adaptation of a tribute given by David Bingham at a Thanksgiving Service at Crescent Church, Belfast, on July 2nd.

[1] For example, lists 237 papers under Prof Nevin’s name.  A fuller list of papers by Prof Nevin is published elsewhere on this website in the Latest News section.