Keith Wesnes 1950-2020

A personal memoir from Andrew Scholey.

I first met Keith in the mid-nineties at the BPS Psychobiology Section Annual meeting in the Lake District. Back then there were three factors which made the meeting perfect for Keith – a focus on good science, an informal atmosphere and the fact that it was held in a pub. We hit it off immediately, almost certainly due the last of these. At the time he was already an established scientist, while I was taking baby steps, having just secured university funding for my first PhD student. He willingly came on board as co-supervisor for that PhD (and many more subsequently). From there, we were friends and colleagues for the next 25 years. 

Keith was incredibly supportive, using money from his business to contribute resources to me and my colleagues, even to the point of funding whole PhDs. He was instrumental in establishing my research at Northumbria University, and of course he paid for the party when my first lab was launched. When I was offered a job in Australia 10 years later, Keith was the first person I called for advice.

For people who didn’t know him well, Keith may be remembered for the Cognitive Drug Research (CDR) battery, the first computerised test battery of its kind. The way he told it to me, Keith won a university prize during his PhD. He was testing nicotine’s effects in humans which required a work-intensive, human ‘conveyer belt’ of reaction time and pencil-and-paper tests. He used the prize money to pay a techie friend to program these tasks onto a BBC Micro (this was the eighties), and the precursor to the CDR battery was born. People at conferences started asking more questions about his battery than about his research. Keith, being way ahead of his time, recognised the potential value of commercialising research (decades before the university sector). So he started CDR Ltd as a company. 

Keith probably made a lot of money from CDR – I remember the first time he rolled up in his Bentley to pick me up from Heathrow with a big grin shouting “fancy a spin dude?” But he was also hugely generous, he relished treating his friends and their friends to long, slap-up dinners. His business model was to charge top dollar to industry while offering the CDR battery free to students and academics. I was at a couple of meetings where his business manager’s face would drop as Keith made these decisions. Beyond the entrepreneur though, Keith was a true pioneer of psychopharmacology, razor sharp with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area.  

Another tribute to Keith has rightly described him as a “giant of psychopharmacology”. He was an absolute one-off with a huge appetite for life as well as for good food, good wine and good conversation. Like many who knew Keith, I’ll cherish fond memories of long nights out, drinking and talking into the early hours, ending with a boozy, rib crushing hug from the big man.

Keith Wesnes passed away peacefully in his sleep on 14 April. He leaves behind wife Louisa, children Anna, Kay and Louis and grandson Koa.

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