Rysiek Szydlo - a tribute (English version)

Created by Nuna 3 months ago

Rysiek Szydło
1.7.1959 – 18.12.2023

Rysiek was born on 1 July 1959 in London to Kazimierz and Daniela. Kazimierz participated in the defence of Poland against Nazi Germany and was an officer in the Carpathian Brigade which fought in Tobruk and thereafter in the Italian campaign, including Monte Cassino. He was decorated with the Silver Cross of Virtuti Militari and the Cross of Valor. Daniela was deported by the Soviets with her mother and siblings to Siberia. Kazimierz and Daniela met in London, where they married and settled in West London, where first Zbyszek, and then Krysia, were born. His siblings say that Rysiek was an exceptionally lively addition to the family!

As was the case for almost all children of the post-war Polish émigré generations, Rysiek’s life embraced much of what was British and all that was Polish. Kazimierz and Daniela bought their children up nurturing all Polish traditions and the Catholic faith. Both were pivotal for Rysiek throughout his life.

Rysiek attended John Perryn Primary school in Acton and thereafter went to Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith. He is remembered as an outstanding fast bowler and fly half with a massive kick, although the rugby was interrupted by a broken leg. Concurrently, he was a pupil at the Henryk Sienkiewicz Polish Saturday school in Ladbroke Grove, where Polish language, history, geography and much more led to ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels in Polish.

Initially a cub in ‘Orlęta Lwowskie’, he then became a scout and venture scout in ‘Błękitna Trójka’ (3rd Warsaw Polish Scout Troup in London). Rysiek’s love and natural ability in sport extended to volleyball, climbing, surfing, skiing and of course, cycling.
Exam results did not necessarily reflect his true ability and Rysiek commenced what would become a stellar academic career at Portsmouth Polytechnic (which became a university in 1992). After his first degree in Zoology, he stayed on and completed a PhD in pharmacokinetics. Returning to London, he joined the department of haematology at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School (now Imperial College) where he built and analysed the database for recipients of transplantation, also finding time to complete an MSc at the London School of Tropical Medicine, thus becoming a medical statistician. His work has included research into chronic myeloid leukaemia, multiple myeloma, Hodgkin lymphoma, dyskaratosis congenita and amyloidosis, to name but a few. He is an author or co-author writing peer-reviewed papers published in, amongst others, The Lancet, Journal of Clinical Oncology, Blood, British Journal of Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation. He continued working despite his illness and on 28 November 2023 published his 200th paper. In total, Rysiek has 333 publications and 13,454 citations accredited to him.

In March 2022 he was awarded the Imperial College, London, President’s Medal for Research Support Excellence for his essential contributions to the Centre for Haematology. The following accolades accompanied this incredible distinction: “Richard has been instrumental in the creation of major patient databases and his scientific contributions have not only impacted the Centre for Haematology here at Imperial, but also national and international guidelines for stem cell transplantation”. “He is approachable, kind, patient and amusing with colleagues at all levels from BSc students to senior professors, who often find statistical design and analyses out of their comfort zone. He is never patronising and his talents make him an essential and integral departmental member. Nothing is ever too much trouble for him, from the most complex clinical trial analysis to helping medical students understand a Student Test, he gives with genuine passion, expertise and compassion.”

To achieve the above would be more than most of us could dream of in a lifetime, but during the 30+ years that Rysiek devoted to his professional work, he also had another life that most of us may be more familiar with.

His interest in photography started at an early age but grew to work of an epic scale. He was, of course, the jovial photographer at weddings, christenings and family events for so many of us. He was behind the lens in the theatre, at the Polish Ball, joint holidays and just about everywhere else. One of his first, little known achievements, was an exhibition created after spending several weeks with the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary in Kadłub, Poland, documenting the existence of the severely disabled boys whom the Sisters cared for. The funds generated by Rysiek’s work were instrumental in saving the Home. He also had many prestigious exhibitions, including ‘The mysticism of nature’, ‘The Mysticism of Places Without People’, ‘Signs of Ethiopia’, ‘The Tree’, and ‘Travels with Infra-Red’. He was author and co-author of multimedia displays entitled ‘You are’, ‘Blue’ and ‘Form’. ‘Trees at Llyn Idwal’ and ‘Grandma’s Birches‘ were exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2004 and 2005. His work was viewed at Riverside Studios and is also exhibited at a maximum security prison in Wołów, Poland, where one of the inmates sent Rysiek a painting of one of his photographs from Monument Valley. He established “Art at Work” in the Department of Haematology at Hammersmith Hospital. Rysiek’s ‘through the lens’ creative work is not just photography. It is art, and for many of us lucky enough to have one of his pieces on our walls, they will indeed forever have a special meaning.

Not only did he capture the on-stage and candid back-stage shots at countless events and performances, but Rysiek was also an accomplished dancer and singer himself, performing with Mazury for three decades. Encouraging to partners of all ages, he exuded positivity and brought energy to both rehearsals and stage. He sang with various choirs and groups, and contributed within many social organisations.

His interests and expertise extended to his knowledge of wild food and fungi in particular. On many occasions, checking with Rysiek as to the edibility of particular fungi, avoided potentially disastrous consequences. He was an entomologist, an ornithologist and more generally, if there was a question on nature, Rysiek would be your man. He was one of life’s ‘collectors’, maintaining the Polish adage, that anything might come in useful in the future. He could often produce ‘specimens’ to aid his narration on all manner of subjects, and on numerous occasions he would reach into his freezer to produce his latest ‘find’.

Voluntary work was no stranger to him. Amongst other, he was treasurer for many years at Amnesty International in Hammersmith, he was a Council member of POSK (Polish Social and Cultural Association) for 18 years, and more recently he was elected parent governor at St George’s Catholic Primary Voluntary Academy in Harrow, then transferring to become a foundation governor and becoming Chair of Governors in 2023.

Rysiek was one of life’s true and unconditional ‘givers’. He worked in shelters for the homeless at Christmas preparing meals, he worked with the Samaritans. Above all he was a genuine friend upon whom everyone could rely.
So no wonder that so many who knew Rysiek asked him to be godfather to their child and as a result at Rysiek and Blanka’s wedding on 2 June 2012, there was a separate table just for the double figure of godchildren.

Rysiek’s search and waiting for his beloved Blanka may have taken longer than he had anticipated, but once his bachelor days were over, Rysiek’s joy went to a new level and with the arrival of Tomek, Robert and Ania, he was truly and openly the happiest of souls. The family adventures continued with his passion for the outdoor world, exploration and inquisitiveness, but now he had the best of fellow adventurers. These were, as he shared, the best of times for him and, with his usual modesty, he considered himself to be very lucky and truly fulfilled.

Rysiek left a legacy wherever he went; from nature trails in Portsmouth, his photographic expeditions all over the world, his professional and voluntary work, but most importantly and singularly, by imprinting his natural joy, warmth and genuine friendship upon everyone he met. When illness challenged him in the last few years, he dealt with it with incredible courage and peace. He shared his journey openly, honestly, inquisitively and always with care and gratitude to those around him.
He would always welcome us with his unique, endearing and infectious laugh. It will be that laugh that will always resound in our hearts as we remember Rysiek, as he would want us to, with a beaming smile.

Composed and compiled by Andrzej Rumun
with input from Rysiek’s friends and colleagues
January 2024