It is with great sadness that the International Federation of Fertility Societies (IFFS) announces the death of Professor Robert F. Harrison, past president of the Federation who passed away on the 28th of January 2017 after a period of illness. Professor Harrison was born on the 15th of May 1940 in Mansfield, England, the son of a general practitioner. Having been educated in Liverpool, he attended the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in Dublin graduating in 1967. He was subsequently appointed Professor and Head of Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the RCSI and Rotunda Hospital in 1989. Professor Harrison was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh (1971), Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (1984) and the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland (1980).
He held a Doctorate in Medicine from the National University of Ireland (1981). His major academic drive, having published over 200 peer-reviewed papers, was awarded with a Doctorate of Science from the same institution in 2001. His career as an educator was complemented by sound clinical practice. He was a pioneer not only in setting up the first IVF service in Ireland but also in recognising the need to train future generations of reproductive medicine specialists. He provided the facilities for such training to happen in Ireland and encouraged young doctors to pursue this subspecialty.
Clinically, he believed in and delivered evidence based patient care and proved visionary in identifying oncology patients as potential beneficiaries of preventative cryopreservation. The establishment of a state of the art, public purse funded national oncology cryopreservation service for males and females was one of the few worldwide. Professor Harrison was a generous “giver” supporting the activities of many national and international societies. He engaged in and promoted the activities of the Irish Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists as a member of the Postgraduate Training Committee, Treasurer and subsequently President of the Institute. Internationally, he was special advisor and subsequently Chair of the WHO Infertility Task Force between 1983 and 1988.
His contribution to the International Federation of Fertility Societies spanned nearly 20 years. He was appointed Secretary General between 1983 and 1996. His Office in Dublin hosted the secretariat of the Federation during this time. He became President elect in 1996 and took Office in 1998 until 2001. During this long-standing affiliation with the IFFS he actively promoted the mission of the Federation, supporting the recognition of developing countries as the main target for the scientific and educational programmes. While such achievements are remarkable, his true legacy are the many families, children and parents, that would have not had the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company would Prof Harrison not persevered in establishing IVF in Ireland. A life lived with purpose: to offer help and give joy. Robbie, your dreams have come true.
His passing represents a great personal and professional loss to the IFFS, its board, its members, and those who knew him. The IFFS extends its condolences to Professor Harrison’s family, his wife Mary and his children Peta, Sinead, Charlotte and Robert.