It is with great sadness that we announce the death of MQ’s CEO Lea Milligan who passed away following a sudden illness on Monday the 15th of April.

Lea dedicated his life to helping other people. He turned down a place at Oxford University, deciding instead to launch his career in the charity sector.

He started by delivering cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and alternative education programmes in prisons before becoming COO of City Gateway who provide support to at-risk children and women in Tower Hamlets.

Lea then joined Mercy Ships UK, a charity that delivers lifesaving surgical care in West Africa, and was their Executive Director for 4 years.

He was part of a team that cofounded the Harvard Centre for Global Surgery Evaluation that seeks to increase access to surgical care and inform surgery policy on a global scale.  As part of this project, he oversaw the launch of a BMJ supplement on safe surgical access that has already saved countless lives worldwide.

In 2020 Lea became the CEO of MQ Mental Health Research. Over the last four years he has transformed the charity. He launched a new strategy, focusing on the development of early career researchers and translational research on a global scale.

He grew the charities income, broadened its reach, and has secured a global reputation for MQ as one of the most impactful funders of scientific research into different mental health conditions, treatments and preventions.

Lea was my first “virtual” recruit over video link in the midst of the pandemic with all the trepidation that new process entailed at the time. Of course, I need not have worried as we had found a truly exceptional CEO for MQ.

Lea was not only an inspirational leader but an incredibly clear strategic thinker. In his tragically shortened career he had an enormously positive impact  both on the individuals he interacted with and the wider mental health research arena. Those of us who worked closely with him have not only lost a colleague but a true friend. The sector has lost one of its shining lights but his vision and message of hope lives on.

Shahzad Malik

Chair of the Board of trustees, MQ Mental Health Research

Lea was a champion for ensuring that public health policy decisions were evidence based and worked with the APPG for a Fit and Healthy Childhood on numerous reports and campaigns.

Lea Milligan was an absolute one-off. A magnificent human being with an extraordinarily generous heart and a brilliant mind. We were so thrilled to have recruited him to join MQ as CEO and he hit the ground running delivering more than our wildest dreams. A fabulous champion for the importance of researching mental health, a terrific leader and a wonderful friend to many. He is irreplaceable and will be so very much missed. My heart goes out to his children and partner. Thank you, Lea, for everything and for leaving such a deep imprint and fantastic legacy. May you now rest in peace.

Professor Irene Tracey CBE

Vice-Chancellor, University of Oxford

Lea contributed so much to developing MQ and the field of mental health research funding. His commitment, energy and vision were inspiring. He will be hugely missed.

Miranda Wolpert

Director of Mental Health, Wellcome

His work helped so many and we hope all those who grieve for him find comfort in the knowledge that Lea’s legacy will live on and that his life made a difference.

Phillippa Charles

Director, Garfield Weston Foundation

He was also the Chair of Collective Voice, the UKs Drug and Alcohol Services Network and was a trustee of the Association of Medical Research Charities.

Lea’s legacy however is not just his work. It is his innate ability to make genuine connections to people straight away. With a booming voice, a quick wit and an undeniable charisma Lea was often the centre of attention in any room he was in. He was a sports enthusiast, a keen golfer and was passionate about helping others.

His ultimate ambition was to see a world where everyone could access the healthcare they deserved. An ambition that will be carried by his friends and colleagues at MQ who will continue with the momentum that Lea generated.


He leaves behind his partner and two children, as well as many who loved him.

The post Tributes to Lea Milligan, MQ’s CEO first appeared on MQ Mental Health Research.


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