Donald RJ Singer 1954 - 2022 

I’d like to use this space to pay my own tribute to Donald, who had become a good friend over the thirteen years we ran the Hippocrates Initiative together. The project began in talks after Donald approached me to help judge a local poetry competition he’d started at University Hospital Coventry. Why not offer a national or even international poetry prize for poems on medical subjects, we wondered. That thought quickly ramified to include the annual symposium, at which papers were given both on poetry written on medical subjects and on the clinical uses to which poetry might be put. And the annual prize anthology soon became the Hippocrates Press, which was privileged to publish the work of some truly superb writers from the UK and around the world.

My very first impression of Donald was of a professional person who was courteous, good-humoured, efficient and down-to-earth, and I never had cause to qualify that impression. His amiable manners were unfailing, his cheerfulness and sense of irony were fine-tuned, and the deftness with which he attended to arrangements or fixed problems could be astonishing. Through it all I was delighted to find him lacking in the self-importance which can afflict the professorial and consultant classes. He was quite simply an honest soul taking pleasure in doing what he was good at doing, and a man immensely after my own heart.

The Hippocrates Prizes for poems on medical subjects were won by poets established and new from around the globe, the annual symposium was held at Harvard and Northwestern Universities in the US as well as at different venues in the UK, and the Hippocrates Press published numerous anthologies and collections showcasing the values of poetry on medical themes. From its THES Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Arts to its well-loved series of online readings during the Covid pandemic, the Hippocrates Initiative set a global benchmark in promoting and advancing the interface of poetry and medicine. As I write these lines it looks highly probable that it will soon come to an end.

Little more than a month ago, Donald and I spent a couple of hours together for the first time in more than two years. We met at Letocetum (Wall), the Roman site just south of Lichfield, and talked in the May sunshine of great places of the Empire that we had each visited over the years. On this, as on so many subjects we’d touched on in London or Venice or Chicago, Donald was informed and spoke zestfully. Over lunch at a terrace restaurant in the greenery we discussed manuscripts offered to the press, organizational issues facing the Hippocrates Initiative, and plans for the future. Donald was on his sunniest form, and it beggars belief that in the short time since then I have been reading (with deep gratitude) so many kind words of tribute to one who is no longer with us. The shock and the loss alike, above all for his family but also for those who knew him, worked with him, and benefitted from his appetite for life, are truly immeasurable.

Michael Hulse, June 2022

22 Michael with Donald at Letocetum 19.5.22

Photo: Donald and Michael (l.), a double selfie taken by Donald on 19 May 2022

Michael Hulse

Professor Emeritus, University of Warwick

Co-founder of the Hippocrates Initiative.

Contact: Michael Hulse

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