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Gavin Mooney

Founding father of health economics;

Born: October 30, 1943; Died: December 19, 2012,

Professor Gavin Mooney, who has died aged 69, was one of the founding fathers of health economics and a truly global academic, holding university positions from the most northerly to southerly universities and in between, Aberdeen and Australia and playing significant roles. Through these positions, he drew many people into health economics (and stopped them leaving); many now work in professorial positions at leading universities, including LSE and Oxford.

As well as being an outstanding researcher, Professor Mooney was one of the best health economics educators and mentors. In 2001, the Health Foundation decided to hold a UK-wide competition for £3m of funding for a new chair in health economics. Universities had to apply with named candidates. Out of the five finalists, three had been Aberdeen University PhD students of Prof Mooney.

He was born in Glasgow and after attending North Berwick High in East Lothian, studied economics at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with an MA (honours) in 1969. The degree came after he had tried out life as a trainee actuary at the Standard Life Assurance Company for four years.

From university, he headed into the Government Economic Service, located in London, dividing the four years he spent there between Environment and what was then Health and Social Security. This experience convinced him of the need for economic principles to be applied in socially-important areas where the benefits, such as lives saved and gains in health, are difficult to measure. This took him to the University of Aberdeen in 1974 to work on a prototype health services economics project under the guidance of visionary Professor of Social Medicine, Roy Weir; the word "social" in the title of Weir's chair being one of the attractions.

Prof Mooney wrote more than 20 books (and more than 200 publications in total). One of them, written with Weir and Elizabeth Russell, Choices for Health Care, is still a classic.

The Aberdeen project led to the creation of one of the world's first research centres in the subject, the Health Economics Research Unit (HERU), funded by the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Executive. Prof Mooney was inaugural director, becoming Scotland's first Professor of Health Economics in 1984.

A major teaching innovation during this period was the now-famous health economics correspondence course, through which thousands of health services managers and clinicians have been taught how to implement health economics in publicly-funded health services.

During this time, Prof Mooney also found time to write Economics, Medicine and Health Care, one of the best-selling health economics books of all time. Reflecting the influence of his parents on his social values, the book was dedicated "to faither".

By 1986, changes in Prof Mooney's personal life led him to take up a post at the University of Copenhagen, from where his influence spread throughout Scandinavia. He even took up a part-time position at the University of Tromso, developing yet another influential correspondence course, this time aimed at bringing economists into health economics. Further international recognition followed, with honorary positions at Aarhus University (Denmark), Victoria University (New Zealand) and the University of New South Wales, Australia.

By the early 1990s, a return to Aberdeen beckoned. Prof Mooney went back to HERU as director (part-time), commuting between there and Denmark. I was lucky enough to be recruited as his deputy director, an experience which has shaped my whole approach to research management and for which I will be eternally grateful.

Prof Mooney's second tenure at Aberdeen was not to last however. He returned from a short sabbatical in Australia in 1993, to announce that he was heading back there for good, taking up the Foundation Chair in Health Economics at Sydney University and then a professorial position at Curtin University in Perth, which he held until his retirement in 2008. Perth was where he met his wife Del Weston, herself a distinguished academic in the area of climate justice. She died with him in Tasmania.

Professor Mooney made major contributions to health economics – in methods of priority setting, economic evaluation and valuation of life and health. But his time in Australia would be notable for his work on health equity, especially on Aboriginal health, for which cause he became a strong advocate.

One of his proudest moments was his invitation to speak at the Garma Festival of Traditional Culture held in Australia's Northern Territory in 2008. Health economics, and health equity in particular, were great outlets for his feisty and direct nature.

He had no children of his own. He is survived by his sister Helen and his brother, Grant, a retired general practitioner.

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