Patrick Dowling, vice chancellor of Surrey University and former head of civil engineering at Imperial College, was one of the speakers at a conference in honour of Peter Richards, who retires shortly as dean of St Mary's Hospital Medical School. The two men met regularly in Imperial's management and planning group, where Professor Dowling discovered the secret of Professor Richards's apparently inexhaustible energy.
"The simple fact which emerged was that he has the most energy-efficient internal system of any human being I have met. Depending on the agenda item being discussed, and its importance as judged by Peter, he would either be furiously locked in the cut-and-thrust of reasoned argument or, apparently, he would be sound asleep.
"It was the internal control system which impressed me most as he could instantly re-awaken and contribute constructively if any major issue arose in the midst of what was otherwise a mind-numbing discussion on some trivial item of detail. Although I have not managed fully to understand the scientific laws governing this phenomenon, I have little doubt that were Peter to patent it there would be many of us rushing to buy it."