Tribute to Dr Adrian John Ryan

7 July 2017

Dr Adrian Ryan - 3 May 1933 - 9 June 2017 BSc (Hons 1, Sydney), MSC (Pharm Chem, Sydney), PhD (Manchester, UK), BA (Sydney)

Dr Adrian Ryan former Reader, Head of the Department of Pharmacy and former member of Senate of the University of Sydney passed away on 9 June 2017. A celebration for his life was held on 16 June.

Early career and training

Adrian completed a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Sydney (interrupted by National Service with the RAAF) graduating with 1st class honours in Chemistry. This was followed by a Master of Science majoring in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. After this, Adrian worked in the McMaster Animal Health Laboratory located in the Veterinary Science School at the University.

Adrian was subsequently awarded a CSIRO overseas scholarship to Manchester University to obtain his PhD under the supervision of Professor Arthur Birch over a 2 year period.

Academic career and contribution

Upon returning to Australia, Adrian was appointed as a Research Officer in the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney, this was followed by progression up the academic ladder - Lecturer (1963), Senior Lecturer (1965) and Reader in Pharmaceutical Chemistry (1970). This appointment is given for excellence in research and was one of the first such appointments made at the University. In 1989, Adrian served a term as Head of the Department of Pharmacy. During this 4 year tenure new academic areas of study and new directions in teaching were established, as well as the appointment of several new professors in those areas of study.

Research and impact

Starting in the 1960's and continuing over the next three decades, Adrian was actively involved in ground breaking research on the metabolism and excretion of dyes, poisons and carcinogens in mammals. These scholarly contributions appeared in leading international peer review journals, with some of his research published in the prestigious journal Nature. This research established a strong foundation in toxicology and drug metabolism in the Department of Pharmacy. Adrian's academic career included 2 periods of a year's sabbatical leave in California (1969) and North Carolina (1975).

As a teacher and mentor, Adrian influenced many undergraduates and postgraduates. Through his lectures, practicals and course structuring there are no doubt many hundreds of pharmacists who have reaped the benefits of his knowledge and wisdom. Many of his students have gone on to have distinguished academic careers both in Australia and abroad, former postgraduate students Adrian supervised have become professors in France, Canada, Melbourne, Brisbane, and in Sydney. The recent PhD graduate and long time member of the Department and Faculty of Pharmacy, Dr Fred Wong, began his career as Adrian's research assistant.

Leadership and advocacy

Adrian became involved with academic unionism initially because of limitations placed on academic pay and conditions by the federal government but later more out of his concern for the welfare and representation of his fellow staff members. He was very active in this sphere holding executive positions at both the state and national levels of the academic staff associations. In 1986 Adrian was elected by his peers to as a fellow of the senate of the University of Sydney. A position he served in for approximately nine years, including service on several influential senate committees including Finance. Adrian's contribution to the academic life of Australia was recognised by his being awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001 for Services to Education.

Life beyond the University

Outside of academic life, Adrian played club cricket in the summer and was, for many years, an avid soccer referee for the Gladesville Hornsby Football Association.

Following his retirement in 1994, Adrian completed a part time Arts degree at the University of Sydney with majors in Australian history and units of English poetry and literature.

Adrian maintained an active interest in politics and social justice issues. After retirement he became secretary of the Hornsby branch of the Labour Party, as well as serving in several other executive positions within the organisation.

Adrian was a devoted husband of 60 years to his wife Coralee and a proud father and grandfather. He took great pride in the life and achievements of his two children and three grandchildren.


Adrian had a major impact on many of his former students and colleagues. A number of tributes were received.

"I am deeply indebted to him for all the best advice and encouragement during I work with him."

- Professor Sugiyanto, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia

"Adrian was a very nice man who had a lot of courageā€¦ fortitude and insight into Higher Education. We have lost a great friend and colleague."

- Professor Mick McManus, University of Queensland

"As a high achiever in academic teaching and research, trade union advocacy and politics, and policy lobbying at the highest levels of Commonwealth decision-making, Adrian was unusual for his self-effacement and lack of ego. He was interested in the message and the results, and not in his role as messenger and advocate."

- Daphne Kok, Magistrate, Former Deputy Chancellor and Fellow of Senate

A life well lived

Adrian is survived by his wife, Coralee, his children (Ann Maree and Chris) and grandchildren (Sara, Marc and Ella). Dr Adrian Ryan had a long and strong association with the University of Sydney and Pharmacy, he has made a lasting contribution.

Written by Dr Chris Ryan and Professor Andrew McLachlan (July 2017).