Obituary: Richard Ward, 1944-2015

A leading researcher on diseases spread by insects and ways of combating them has died

December 17, 2015
 Obituary: Richard Ward, 1944-2015

Richard Ward was born on 21 June 1944 and grew up in Battersea, South London. He studied zoology at Chelsea College, part of the University of London (1966), and then spent two years, through Voluntary Service Overseas, at the Mosquito Research and Control Unit in the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, carrying out research that gained him an MSc in 1969.

This involved a number of adventures. On one occasion, when Professor Ward and his team were coming in to land in a light aircraft, they had to buzz to wake the airport staff so they could put out the oil lamps to mark the runway.

Another time, he was out collecting sandflies in his Mini Moke and decided to take a shortcut, having forgotten that the airport was being modernised. He drove straight into a hole and wrote off the vehicle but, ever the professional naturalist, made sure that he got all his specimens back to base.

Although he returned to the UK briefly for a position at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Ward soon moved on to a job as entomologist at the Wellcome Trust Parasitology Research Unit in Belem, Brazil.

He continued his work on sandflies and the transmission of different forms of leishmaniasis, a skin disease that causes at least 75,000 deaths each year. Particularly significant was a pioneering project (later written up in Nature) on the colonisation and artificial feeding of the sandfly Lutzomyia longipalpis that led to the first experimental transmission of the parasite Leishmania infantum.

After seven years in Brazil, during which he gained his PhD (1974), Professor Ward returned to the UK in 1977. He spent 16 years at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, first as an overseas development agency lecturer before being promoted to Wellcome senior lecturer and then reader. It was here that he developed new control strategies for sandflies that built on his understanding of the role that host odours and sex pheromones played in their interactions with the insects.

In 1994, Professor Ward moved on again to become professor of medical entomology at Keele University. A keen believer in the value of his life science students gaining experience in the field and internationally, he set up a programme giving them an opportunity to carry out research in Malaysia.

Professor Ward died of cancer on 26 October and is survived by his wife Mary, a son, a daughter and two grandchildren.

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