Dr. Richard (Dick) Hill
Longtime cancer researcher Dr. Richard (Dick) Hill is described as "a force around Princess Margaret for decades." ​(Image: UHN StRIDe Team)

Dr. Richard (Dick) Hill is being remembered for his legacy as a leading radiation and tumour biology researcher and as a valued mentor, colleague, and friend to many at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and beyond.

Dr. Hill's long history with PM dates back to the late 1960s and saw him make major contributions to both cancer science and academia as a Professor at the University of Toronto (U of T).

He passed away Sunday after living many years with myeloma.

Dr. Hill was an expert in the role of radiobiology, hypoxia and the tumour microenvironment, malignant tumor progression and the development of metastases. His work earned him tremendous accolades including one of the country's top cancer research awards in 2007 – the Canadian Cancer Society Robert L. Noble Prize – and the Henry S Kaplan Distinguished Scientist Award from the International Association for Radiation Research in 2011.

His contributions to the field also includes co-authoring the key textbook – The Basic Science of Oncology – which has been lauded as the "bible" for oncology study, sold tens of thousands of copies worldwide and been translated into a number of languages.

"Dick was a force around Princess Margaret for decades," says Dr. Michael Milosevic, a colleague and friend of Dr. Hills'.

"He had this intrinsic belief that research had to cross the clinical barrier – that divide between the lab and the clinic – in order to have an impact on patients. Dick was thinking about that well before many others."

Dr. Hill obtained his PhD in Radiation Biology in 1967 at St Bartholomew's Hospital, part of London University, and completed post-doctoral training at the then-Ontario Cancer Institute in 1970.

He returned to join the Ontario Cancer Institute in 1973 and was Professor of Medical Biophysics at the U of T since 1987. He was cross-appointed to the Department of Radiation Oncology at the U of T in 1995 because of his translational collaborations with clinicians.

Dr. Milosevic says that Dr. Hill acted as an invaluable mentor to countless researchers and students over decades. He instilled high academic and ethical standards that were the foundation of his career in future generations of scientists and clinicians, he added.

"He is known for his rigour and really making sure people knew there w​here no shortcuts," Dr. Milosevic says. "​His mentorship of people, whether they were a high school student, graduate student, or junior faculty – like I was when I first met him – was huge in shaping careers."

Dr. Hill was also the first recipient of a UHN faculty award which now bears his name – the "Dick Hill Mentorship Award." The honour is a testament to the mentorship that Dr. Hill provided to his students and colleagues.

Dr. Gelareh Zadeh, Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret, said she recently visited Dr. Hill and his family.

"While clearly physically frail, there was nothing frail about his mind," she says. "As usual, he was engaged and attentive to the conversation, with every opinion being sound, sensible and thoughtful, reminding me of why I have considered him to be one of my most impactful mentors.

"I am so honoured to have had the chance to train with him and help establish the Dick Hill Mentorship Award to honour the legacy he left behind."

UHN Executive Vice-President, Science and Research, Dr. Bradly Wouters noted that Dr. Hill's contributions to both the academic life of the Princess Margaret and the field of cancer biology were enormous.

"Dick's scientific contributions have opened entirely new fields of cancer biology and have been rooted in a clear understanding of the progress needed to improve the lives of patients," Dr. Wouters says. "And within our institute, he has been responsible for nurturing the careers of countless students, staff, and young clinicians and researchers many of whom are active within PM today.

"He will be missed by many."

Funeral services for Dr. Hill will take place on Monday, Nov. 8 at the Giffen-Mack Funeral Home, 2570 Danforth Ave., near the Main subway station. Visitation is from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. with a "​Celebration of Life" from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. The ceremony will also be online for those who cannot attend, with a link available on the funeral home's website.

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