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23rd November 2020
Dear BCIS member
We are planning to coordinate a tribute to Tony Gershlick that will include memories and anecdotes about him from members who knew him well. We will issue details about this shortly. In the meantime, I have prepared this personal tribute to Tony.
Very best wishes
This photo of Tony always makes me smile. It was taken at TCT a few years ago when we were picking up our registration badges… as well as the actual badge, if you were lucky enough to be on Faculty you got a red ribbon stuck at the bottom marked “Faculty”. On this year, I was particularly proud to get a second ribbon because I had served on one of the committees. My pride was somewhat dented when I met Tony wearing his badge… with 5 ribbons at the bottom! This is him striking what we agreed was a nonchalant pose that was also designed to highlight the achievement. A typically fun, tongue in cheek reaction by him, and a typically crap bit of photography by me! We laughed even harder at my inability to fit his head on the picture…
I have known Tony since the early 1990s. This was at the very start of my interventional cardiology training. His presence has therefore been a constant in my career in this amazing specialty, which explains the profound emptiness and loss that I have been feeling since I heard of his passing on Friday. This constancy in his presence is no exaggeration: it is true to say that Tony has been part of my experience of every BCIS meeting, nearly every PCR, TCT, & most training courses to which I have been lucky enough to have contributed. From the early days when I started giving talks, I have enjoyed in depth, powerpoint-nerdy, back-and-forth banter with Tony about my backgrounds, fonts and animations. It has been a rare meeting that he hasn’t criticised what I had thought were novel & exciting features of my presentations, whilst subtly trying to work out how an animation was contrived, or which new font featured. It was not unusual for one of us to text or email the other asking if we could borrow their talk, partly to see how they had managed a particular effect! His talks were always a treat: colourful, meticulously laid out, visually confrontational, and presented with clarity, passion, and usually some degree of challenge. Tony was a natural teacher and communicator. He was an instinctive advocate of, and for, interventional cardiology. He took every course and conference as an opportunity to learn and to help others to learn with him. His thirst for information and knowledge, and his love for interventional cardiology was plain for everyone to see and share. His technical dexterity and decision-making skills in the catheter lab have not only allowed him to play a pioneering role in so many developments in our specialty (primary PCI, CTO PCI, left main PCI, new imaging, physiology to mention a few), but also to pass on this wealth of knowledge to scores of fortunate registrars and fellows. There has been an avalanche of stories since Tony died from those in whom he invested time and support to help advance their careers. He took his role as a supervisor and mentor extremely seriously, and was rightfully proud of those he had helped.
This clinical excellence and leadership would, in itself, have made Tony an outstanding member of the UK interventional community. But it is in the field of original research that his achievements have attracted international recognition, for which we all owe him a debt of gratitude. I have been very lucky to have been able to interact with Tony on countless occasions in relation to research projects… lucky because these experiences have offered me so many chances to learn, to joust and argue with his avid, restless, inquisitive, challenging intellect, and to derive fun and satisfaction in the process. In my opinion, Tony has been the single most influential figure in interventional cardiology research in the UK. Until he set up and delivered the REACT trial (looking at rescue PCI after failed thrombolysis), there had been no substantial UK randomised trials in our specialty. The fact that he showed that this was possible directly inspired a generation of academically-minded junior colleagues to pursue original research and randomised trials. REACT was, in my view, the principal catalyst for the ever-expanding production of quality original UK research in our field, of which we are now rightly collectively proud. From that point, Tony tirelessly moved from one project to another, hungrily pursuing the answer to one clinically immediate question after another… from primary PCI, facilitated PCI, to complete revascularisation, left main PCI, and antiplatelet therapy to name just a few. In the process, he built up a huge band of followers & collaborators who would contribute to his projects over and over again. The sense of privilege of either planning a project with him, or analysing the results once the recruitment was over, is deeply held and ongoing for me. Being caught up in the whirlwind energy of a Gershlick idea or analysis was intoxicating, exciting and, occasionally, infuriating!
Tony was increasingly recognised over the years by the international community. His network of collaborators across the globe rapidly extended, so that he became a go-to representative for UK intervention for both multicentre trials and as a keynote speaker. The standards of excellence that he maintained in both fields is testament to his dedication and drive. He was our key ambassador in interventional cardiology and paved the way for many others.
I will miss Tony Gershlick for all these achievements and characteristics. But I will also miss him as a friend… some of the best times I have ever had at conferences or courses have been in his company. His obvious joy at being with people and interacting with them, his desire to be inclusive of strangers or colleagues new to the group, his innate ability to entertain was both inspirational and infectious to someone much less adept at these skills. His engaging manner with others sprung from an obvious and genuine fascination with people: for example, his in depth questioning about my various interests in HIIT, StreetFighting and beard growing yielding much hilarity, which I treasure now. I will really miss his sense of humour, which could be razor sharp one moment and deeply generous the next… I can remember many evenings when we laughed for hours. It was immensely rewarding to get Tony talking about his many interests, gradually unveiling his considerable abilities as a rugby player, jazz musician, furniture maker and painter. As a man who achieved so much, he could be refreshingly self-deprecating, especially when, only hours earlier, he would have been such a powerful antagonist in a conference room.
Tony Gershlick was a pioneer in clinical care but also in advancing our understanding of interventional cardiology. His drive to pursue these goals never eroded: only four weeks ago he spent a couple of hours excitedly talking over with me his next big idea for a randomised trial, knowing that we shared the niggling doubt that complete revascularisation for STEMI patients is unlikely to benefit all of them, but that we actually urgently need to identify which to apply it to and which not. If this trial had got off the ground, it would have finished recruitment when Tony was well into his seventies: this didn’t seem to have even occurred to him! He gave me no indication that he had considered retiring.
Rest in Peace, Tony. Your contribution to our specialty has been simply extraordinary. Your legacy will live on both in terms of the effect that your research has had on both patient care and on the younger colleagues who were inspired to believe they could indeed achieve academic success, and in terms of the passion and skill that are essential requirements for a top quality clinical interventionist which you have passed on to so many other doctors. I will miss you like mad… at the moment, I just can’t contemplate a big conference without you giving talks, asking questions and taking the mick out of me! Thanks for everything. You were great, and I wish I had told you that.