World-leading psychologist’s ‘selfless act’ in Archway Bridge fall

The wife of a world-leading psychologist has told of her husband’s “selfless act” when he plunged to his death from Archway Bridge in Highgate 10 months after a life-changing accident.

In constant agony after shattering and dislocating his knee in a motorbike accident, UCL Professor Jonathon Driver was convinced he would become a burden to his young family and struggle to sustain his ground-breaking academic work.

Prof Driver, former director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, had been unable to return to work or resume his favourite hobbies in the lead up to his death, including playing football with his two sons and fly-fishing.

Doctors described the damage to his knee as the “worst they had ever seen”.

His wife Professor Nilli Lavie told the Ham&High how Prof Driver, 49, discovered that his debilitating condition was only going to get worse with time. She said he hated the idea of deteriorating in front his 10 and 13-year-old sons.

“He looked into all the options and all the forecasts were very grim. It became quite clear that he would be half the man that he was, both as a professional and also as a father and husband because he was in pain all the time,” said Prof Lavie, who also works at UCL in the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

“He thought about it for a long time and concluded that having the pain all the time meant he could never fulfil what he had been. He felt he was going to become more of a burden at time went on.

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“A very big component of it was a selfless act. He thought he would just drag us down.

“He didn’t want the boys to remember him as he went on. Instead of being the dad he would become the patient.”

Prof Driver, of Sandringham Gardens in Crouch End, was found dead on November 28 in Archway Road, Highgate, beneath the notorious suicide spot.

Fellow academics have paid tribute to an “inspirational” colleague, who was one of only six scientists in the world to be chosen for the Royal Society 2010 Anniversary Scholarship.

But at his funeral last Thursday (December 15) his wife discovered that life could have panned out very differently for Prof Driver.

Born in Halifax and brought up in Hull, Prof Driver was swept up in the Mods and Rockers age. A keen bass guitarist, his band the London Boys were dubbed Hull’s “most talented and imaginative pop group” by the Daily Mail in the early 1980s.

On the cusp of a promising academic future at Oxford University, pop singer Sade asked him to become her full-time bass player. But he turned down the offer and spent the next 10 years at Christchurch College, completing a degree in psychology, a PHD and a junior fellowship.

He took up his first lecture position in Cambridge University’s Experimental Psychology department before moving to UCL where he worked until his death.

Prof Driver’s work concentrated on the connection between perception and selective attention, both in normal and damaged brains. He published more than 300 papers and is one of the most cited scientists in the world.

He leaves behind wife Nilli, and sons Shoni,13, and Neil, 10.