Greg Foley, associate professor at the School of Biotechnology, Dublin City University, one of the university’s longest serving academics, having started teaching on campus in 1986 when it was still called NIHE Dublin, has died at the age of 59.
Greg, like his younger brother Tony, was born with cystic fibrosis (CF). His mother Kay and father Derry (deceased) were told the boys wouldn’t reach the age of 10.
Greg defied the odds, and survived multiple serious health challenges down the decades. His resilience and ability to survive were such that there was widespread shock and sadness on campus at DCU when he died following a Covid-19 infection on January 17th at the Mater hospital, Dublin.
He attended CBC Monkstown in Dublin, where his scientific ability was clear to his teachers. Despite his illness, he was selected for the school Junior Cup rugby team and played cricket for CYM Terenure.
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He excelled in his Leaving Certificate, followed by a first-class honours degree in chemical engineering from UCD in 1984, and an MSc in Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. In 1986 he began teaching at the new biotechnology faculty at what was then the National Institute for Higher Education (NIHE) Dublin.
This was the start of a long association with DCU. He left for a few years to complete his doctorate through the prestigious UCD Newman Fellowship programme, returning to the northside campus in 1992 where he became an influential and widely respected figure.
In the early 1990s he married Patricia, who also had CF. They had a short and happy life together, but he lost Patricia to the disease and returned to live with his parents.
In 1995, he met Julie Dowsett, a dietitian he met while attending the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at St Vincent’s University Hospital. They married in 1998. Julie gave him heroic support over 25 years. Together, they shared a love of food, wine, literature, hillwalking and travel and they engaged in fierce academic debates.
In 2002 Greg received a double lung transplant at Newcastle hospital in the UK and was forever grateful to the medical and care team there as it gave him 20 more years of life. In an unusual coincidence, he knew the intensivist who had been present at the harvesting of the donor organs. This gift of life made it possible, in 2008, for him to become a father to Leo, his proudest moment. Despite the age gap, Greg had a very close bond with Leo. They loved being together and talking about Lego, maths, space, nature and cats.
He was from a very close family and received huge support from his mother Kay, brothers Paul, Mark (CEO of EirGrid), and Tony (who died in 2010) and sister Cathy, and holidayed with them regularly in Connemara, France and Spain. He was also close to his nephews and niece, and his aunt Nancy.
His scientific field was the biology of membrane systems, and he authored many papers on this topic in leading scientific journals and wrote a seminal textbook on the topic. However, he will be most remembered as someone who was passionate about teaching.
He gave enormous amounts of time to his students at DCU and was always ready to listen to their questions and queries. He was sensitive to their anxieties and provided support to those who were struggling.
His teaching and levels of personal engagement and commitment made a huge difference to the lives of his students, many of whom wrote warm tributes on social media when they heard of his sudden passing. In recent years he became a key figure in developing the DCU Futures philosophy, which aims at adapting the university to better prepare students to survive and thrive in a world of increasing uncertainty and rapid change. He wrote a blog on education, which was highly regarded, was active on social media, and wrote many letters and opinion pieces for The Irish Times.
His kidneys failed just after his son was born, and again he underwent transplant surgery, this time at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
He had outspoken views on the Irish education system, at times testing the boundaries of academic freedom. As his ventilatory requirements dramatically increased in the final days of his life, he was defiantly tweeting about Covid-19 conspiracy theorists, saying: “Covid sceptics who live in their garden sheds don’t get this.”
He will be best remembered by those closest to him for his sense of humour, his warmth, optimism, loyalty and kindness.