Tribute to Lynda Harper
21 Apr 2020
We are all so sad at the Unit about losing our beloved colleague Lynda Harper on 14 April. She was indeed one of the most generous, kind, selfless and wonderful people and we all miss her so much.
I have known Lynda since the days of the PENTA 1 trial (Paediatric European Network for Treatment of AIDS), back in 1990 – 30 years ago, when she joined us to trial manage the trial. This was the birth of MRCCTU paediatric HIV trials work and the birth of our long collaboration with Penta. None of this wonderful work would have happened without Lynda. We needed to collaborate across Europe; not only was Lynda brilliantly organised, lateral thinking and innovative and so totally reliable, but she could re-sort budgets that didn’t make sense without offending anyone! She came from a backround of teaching maths, but also had studied Italian and had worked in Padova. Languages rolled off Lynda’s tongue; our Italian colleagues were so delighted! They told me she spoke Italian with not a hint of an English accent.
Lynda’s amazing ability to think outside the box and get on with the task in hand helped us get through the early years of politics and press madness that marked the PENTA 1 trial in the early 1990s. Her amazing contribution to organising Penta meetings in Paris, including shepherding an unruly bunch of clinicians (including me) and taking brilliant notes, as well as always sitting with the non-English crowd at Penta dinners, really cemented the early years of Penta. She had a wonderful eye for detail, but also a broad view; ensuring the right people from our sites across Europe and Thailand and South America were recognised on Penta posters and papers. We were a small team and Lynda did much more than trial management in those days – she set up the early trials across Europe and contributed to making Penta what it is today.
We missed Lynda so much when she could no longer work last year. Had we taken her for granted? I think I had. Many of us couldn’t really imagine working without her. From her amazing input into sorting everything on the finance side to her invaluable work for unit inspections, her team spirit, her ability to find solutions to any problem… we all missed her. There was, and is, a big hole at the Unit.
News of Lynda’s death came last week as we were madly trying to put in grants for COVID-19 African work with an impossible one-week deadline. We didn’t talk much about it; for me and I think for others, we knew that she would have wanted us to get the grants in – which we did with 10 minutes to spare late on Friday night. We had a Zoom call to raise a glass to Lynda straight afterwards. We will do this again today.
I have tried to find photos of Lynda. Characteristically she was never in the front! Often not visible at all! Quietly making sure everything worked. I would love to see some, so asking Penta and MRC CTU at UCL colleagues to please send.
I don’t know if Lynda was religious; she was a private person. She was infinitely curious, loved to travel and was an amazing master also of all new languages. Through my friend in the Tibetan community, I asked the Dalai Lama to say prayers for her to send her on her way. She doesn’t want flowers, but here are butter lamps from the Himalayas for Lynda.
So many thoughts to Lynda’s family, Mike and Helen, from all of us.