Head and Shoulders photo of Professor Roger Downer in Ceremonial Cap and Gown at UL
Sunday, November 20, 2022

The death has occurred of University of Limerick President Emeritus Professor Roger Downer.

Professor Roger Downer held the positions of President and Vice Chancellor at University of Limerick from 1998 to 2006. President Emeritus Downer was educated at the Methodist College Belfast before going on to Queens University Belfast to study science and University of Western Ontario, where he studied for a PhD. The majority of Roger Downer’s academic career was spent at University of Waterloo, with sabbatical leaves at Hokkaido University in Japan and Oxford University before returning to Ireland to take up the role of President at UL in 1998.

“Professor Downer led University of Limerick through an extraordinary period of growth and development in his eight years at the helm of the institution. He elevated the position of research at UL with the establishment of a Vice President Research role and ultimately achieved a five-fold increase in research income during his presidency. He placed equal importance on teaching and introduced Ireland’s first Dean of Teaching and Learning position at UL,” said UL President Professor Kerstin Mey.

“It was under Professor Downer’s leadership that University of Limerick expanded its main campus across the River Shannon into Clare and the first bridge linking Limerick and Clare in over 200 years was built.”

Professor Downer led a significant capital development programme for the UL campus which saw the building of Kemmy Business School extension, the Languages Building, Engineering Research Building, the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, the Health Sciences Building, the UL Sport Complex and Ireland’s first 50m swimming pool, the Student’s Union Building, two student accommodation villages and the first crèche for the children of staff and students at any Irish University.

Professor Downer also established UL’s Access Programme to allow students from disadvantaged background access to higher education. He introduced new programmes in architecture, and in a number of health-related programmes including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy. During his tenure as chair of the Irish University Association Professor Downer negotiated with the Department of Health to elevate Nursing to University degree status and UL along with other Irish Universities, introduced a suite of nursing programmes.

Speaking about Roger Downer UL Chancellor Mary Harney said: ‘One of Professor Downer’s many legacies is UL’s School of Medicine. He worked throughout his presidency to establish a new medical school for Ireland at UL against much opposition it must be said. Professor Downer felt strongly that post graduate medical education should be introduced in Ireland as a new pathway to medical education beyond the CAO. He and his colleagues embarked on an ambitious task of establishing post graduate medical education at UL, competing with existing Irish medical schools leading to the establishment of UL Medical School in 2007 the first medical school since the formation of the Irish State.”

Professor Downer was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2004, six years into his term as UL President.

‘Roger was determined to fight the illness and was known to come to work at UL directly from chemo sessions. He ultimately made the decision to step down as UL President to continue his battle with cancer in 2006 but not before he delivered on many of the projects he had worked so hard on. On the day of his resignation UL received notice of approval to establish a medical school,” said Professor Kerstin Mey.

“We are very fortunate to have had Roger Downer’s dedication and drive for University of Limerick. He has left an indelible mark on this institution and on our community. On behalf of the entire UL community I wish to express my condolences to his wife Jean, daughters Kathleen and Tara and son Kevin.

A book of condolence will be open at UL’s Plassey House from Monday 21st November.