Memories of Michael: a colleague’s tribute

Memories of Michael: a colleague’s tribute

Professor Wolf Reik, Head of the Epigenetics research programme, remembers Michael Wakelam in the first of a series of remembrance articles that draw together different perspectives from people who knew and worked with him.

Michael Wakelam was a distinguished biochemist, with a research career in lipid signalling, and a love of lipidomics (the precise analysis of lipids by mass spectrometry). I met Michael first in 2007 when he was appointed our new Director at the Babraham Institute. The first thing Michael did after starting at the Institute was to attend and listen to the lab meetings of all the research groups at the Institute. Imagine that with larger groups this could take a whole afternoon and we didn’t spare him any details either, so from the beginning he showed himself to be interested, to listen, and to be patient. These are good qualities for a director.

With time, he would get to know pretty much everyone in the Institute, and talk to everyone as well. On Fridays at 5.30 pm you would often find him in our bar, usually having a pint with people from stores, health and safety, and security – that is, the people who actually make the Institute run. Anyone could join the conversation though, and you could also have a quick chat with him about anything you needed advice on or help with. He would always be interested to hear about things that you were thinking of, be it family (his son Alex and our daughter Amaya both work in science publishing), politics, or a paper accepted or a research grant awarded, and if it was the latter he would be super-pleased for people.

As he had his Director’s office in the Babraham Hall but his lab office in a research building, you would often see him half-walking half-running across the campus and this trait of his became one of the things that he was fondly known for. Despite the different parts of his job often pulling him in different directions, Michael would always try to come to your lab rather than phone or email when he had news for you (especially when he had good news), or when he wanted a quick discussion on Institute-related matters.

In his decision making he was a consensus seeker who used his emotional intelligence to great effect, and hardly ever overruled others. This spirit of inclusivity and working with diversity has made the Institute a great place to work, in all of its corners.

Michael didn’t get upset very often (he did when he felt something was not fair); you could disagree with him or even have an argument without fear or any lasting animosity. He was looking forward to his retirement as Director so that he could spend more time in his lab with his group of students and postdocs, and share with them his love of science and lipidomics. This is where this loss feels particularly cruel as we could sympathise so much with Michael looking forward to having fun in the lab again after years of hard work looking after all of us.

We will miss him as a friend and a colleague; already I am thinking in our management meetings at the Institute: what would Michael have said or what would Michael have done? These thoughts will be with us for a very long time. 

 

Notes to Editors

Press contact
Dr Louisa Wood, Institute Communications Manager, louisa.wood@babraham.ac.uk

Image description
Professor Michael Wakelam

Additional/related resources
News announcement 1 April 2020 - Michael Wakelam 1955 - 2020

About the Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.