Development & Alumni Relations Office 

PAYING TRIBUTE TO JIM DORNAN – FATHER, HUSBAND, OBSTETRICIAN AND ESTEEMED QUEEN’S GRADUATE  Portrait by Colin Davidson of Professor Jim Dornan - grey haired 70-years-old man with white hair, wearing dark jacket, shirt and tie

25 March 2021

The Queen’s University community was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Professor Jim Dornan, former member of staff and esteemed graduate of the University, who died at King’s College Hospital in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on 15 March 2021, aged 73.

Professor Dornan had been admitted to hospital in Dubai where he had lived since 2019, for routine knee surgery almost a month earlier.

Speaking on behalf of the University’s Development and Alumni Relations Office, Director Nathalie Trott said:

“Professor Jim Dornan was a highly respected former member of Queen’s staff, with a reputation in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology that was second to none in Northern Ireland. He was also someone who was a generous supporter of his alma mater, giving in the past to student scholarships and, more recently, to our new KN Cheung SK Chin Intersim Centre.

“We offer our sincerest sympathies to his wife Samina and to his children Liesa, Jess and Jamie, to the wider Dornan family, to his former colleagues here at the University and to all those many individuals that Professor Dornan helped to deliver into this world.

"Jim will certainly be missed by so many people.”

Public tributes to the retired obstetrician and gynaecologist were led by Dr Michael McBride (MB BCh BAO, 1986), the Chief Medical Officer of Northern Ireland.

Dr McBride said that he was ‘very saddened and shocked’ to learn of Professor Dornan’s death, adding:

“My deepest condolences go to his family and many friends.

“Professor Dornan has made an immense contribution to obstetrics and fetomaternal medicine. He held a number of significant and important leadership roles in the health service both in Northern Ireland and nationally.”

Speaking to The Irish Times, Dr McBride continued: “I trust his family will take some comfort from the lasting legacy he leaves behind, and the esteem in which he was held by so many people at home and abroad.”

Born on 5 February 1948 James Connor Dornan was brought up in Holywood, County Down. His father, also called Jim, was an accountant while his mother, Clare, was the first Occupational Therapist in Northern Ireland.

Jim attended Bangor Grammar School after which he came to Queen’s to study medicine, graduating MB BCh BAO in 1973 and with a Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1981 for his research into Fetal Breathing.

Following his Houseman's year in the Belfast City Hospital he spent time in Canada (in Queen’s University in Kingston), as a perinatal resident. Returning to Northern Ireland, and following completion of his training and receipt of his MD from Queen’s University Belfast, he became a consultant Senior Lecturer and subsequently Reader at the University.

Subsequently he was appointed Professor of Fetal Medicine at the University, a post he held for seventeen years – from 1995 to 2012 – during which time he was elected Senior Vice-President of the Royal College of Gynaecologists (2004-06). More recently, he had a chair in Health & Life Sciences at Ulster University.

A consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist for more than 40 years, during which time he was a dedicated pioneer of women’s reproductive rights, Professor Dornan enjoyed an international reputation, lecturing regularly in the UK, Ireland and overseas on obstetrics.

Nichola Rooney, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Honorary Professor at Queen’s and currently Chair of the British Psychological Society NI, who described Professor Dornan on social media as ‘one of a kind’, said:

“The great Prof Jim Dornan. One of a kind. His glass brimmed over. A true visionary. Early 90’s he saw the benefit that Clinical Psychology could bring to the women in RMJH & made it happen. My friend. RIP. Love to Samina, Liesa, Jess & Jamie”.

Professor Dornan’s first wife, Lorna, died from pancreatic cancer in July 1998. The couple had three children – daughters Liesa and Jessica, and son Jamie, the Hollywood actor famous for his roles in Fifty Shades of Grey and The Fall. Jim Dornan later remarried leading gynaecologist Dr Samina Dornan, whom he met in 1999 in Dublin.

In 2005, Professor Dornan was diagnosed with lymphocytic leukaemia, as a result of which he worked closely with local charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Northern Ireland (LLNI), serving for a time as its patron.

Commenting online LLNI said:

“Very sad news this morning on the passing of Prof Jim Dornan, a passionate patron, advocate and friend to all at Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI.

“Jim was champion for so many small charities and causes in [Northern Ireland] and that legacy will live on. Condolences to family and friends at this sad time”.

Professor Dornan moved to UAE two years ago when Dr Samina Dornan was appointed Head of the Maternal Foetal Medicine Department at King’s College Hospital. He then took up post as the head of department for the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland – Bahrain, where he taught medicine.

Retiring in 2012, he wrote the book An Everyday Miracle – published in 2013 by Blackstaff Press – which provided a unique insight into the world of pregnancy, childbirth and women’s health, chronicling the occasionally sad, more often happy, the ordinary and extraordinary stories of mothers, babies and their care over half a century in Northern Ireland and beyond.

He realised a lifelong ambition to act when he appeared in the third series of the ITV drama Marcella, starring Anna Friel. He also played a policeman in The Fall, in which son Jamie played a serial killer.

Also among those paying tribute to Professor Dornan was the contemporary Belfast artist Colin Davidson, whose paintings have earned him world renown, and an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Social Sciences from Queen’s (DSSc 2016) for distinction in art.

Posting on his Twitter feed on 15 March Dr Davidson said:

“Jim Dornan was a titan. And a gentleman. Rest in peace dear Jim.”

For enquiries about this story, or to submit graduate news items, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast.

Image credit: portrait of Professor Jim Dornan by Colin Davidson reproduced with permission.  

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