We are truly saddened by the loss of our good friend and colleague, Geoffrey Howe. Geoff was a renowned scientist who made significant contributions to cancer epidemiology. He was known as much for his scientific insights and knowledge as for his wonderful stories and contagious enthusiasm.
Geoff was born and educated in England. After receiving his PhD in chemistry, Geoff moved to Canada as a postdoctoral fellow. His interest in epidemiology led him to join the Epidemiology Unit of the National Cancer Institute of Canada. Geoff was instrumental in making the Institute a top research center in both radiation and nutritional epidemiology. In 1995, Geoff became the Chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University.
Geoff initiated several landmark studies of cancer risk associated with protracted radiation exposure. His studies of Canadian tuberculosis patients with multiple fluoroscopies are central to our understanding of carcinogenic effects of fractionated exposures. Geoff also led studies of occupational radiation exposure and cancer risk. Early after the Chernobyl accident, Geoff worked with Gil Beebe and others to conduct studies of thyroid disease and leukemia among the exposed.
Geoff's early case-control studies of diet in relation to breast and colon cancer (conducted with Tony Miller and Meera Jain) provided what were for many years the best available data on these topics. Geoff also conducted the first major pooling of data on diet and the risks of breast and colon cancer. Recognizing potential biases in these data, he and Tony Miller launched one of the first prospective studies of diet and cancer, embedded within a large trial of mammography screening. This cohort continues to provide insights on diet and cancer.
The fact that most of this work was conducted after Geoff had lost his sight made his contributions even more remarkable. Geoff traveled widely—lecturing, exploring, and learning with enthusiasm and irrepressible curiosity. Geoff regarded differences in perspective as opportunities to learn. For him, debates were platforms to exchange ideas, which he did with irony and good humor. His ability to contribute to the advancement of public health—and to relish doing so—will continue to be an inspiration. From Geoff's life we learn that vision does not require sight.