Lives of the fellows

Leybourne Stanley Patrick (Sir) Davidson

b.3 March 1893 d.22 September 1981
Kt(1955) MB ChB Edin(1919) MD(1925) FRCPE(1925) BA Cantab(1926) MRCP(1936) FRCP(1940) Hon MD Oslo(1946) Hon LLD Edin(1962) Hon LLD Aberd(1971)

Leybourne Stanley Patrick Davidson, the second son of Sir Leybourne Davidson, was born in Ceylon and died in Edinburgh after a series of distressing illnesses which afflicted him following his retiral from the chair of medicine at Edinburgh University in 1959.

He had led an active life both physically and academically, and was a well-known ‘character’ on the Edinburgh medical scene. It was not uncommon for his colleagues to greet each other with ‘Have you heard the lastest story about Stanley?’, before launching forth on an account of some new unorthodox episode in his activities at home or overseas.

He was educated at Cheltenham College and then at Trinity College, Cambridge, transferring to Edinburgh University to read medicine. His family home was at Huntly Lodge, Aberdeenshire, and in August 1914 he interrupted his studies to become a combatant in the Gordon Highlanders, a regiment which had been raised in 1794 by the Marquess of Huntly. He served for three years, chiefly in France and Belgium. Twice wounded, the second time so seriously that he was thought to be dead, he was rescued after having laid in the open at Festubert for twenty-four hours, and admitted to the gas-gangrene ward of the base hospital at Boulogne.

His experiences during the first world war made him think deeply about his future activities, and when he returned to Edinburgh in 1917 to resume his medical studies he became a hard worker who managed to obtain first class honours on graduation in 1919. Having fought alongside representatives of all levels of society, he had a fresh outlook on the problems of his fellow men.

First, he became assistant to the professor of bacteriology and had clinical experience at the Royal Infirmary and Leith Hospital. In 1925 he was awarded a gold medal for his MD thesis on immunisation and antibody reactions. With George Gulland he produced, in 1930, a 300 page book on Pernicious Anaemia, at a time when liver therapy had just been introduced. The smallest section is on therapy, because most of his patients had been treated with arsenic or hydrochloric acid, but an account is given of the great advance that had just been made by the discovery of the value of feeding liver, and there is mention of the early use of liver extracts given by injection.

Stanley Davidson was now launched, at a most suitable time, on the main research interest of his career, with expansion later into other aspects of nutrition and the study of rheumatic disorders.

In 1932 he was appointed to the regius chair of medicine in Aberdeen, but in 1938 he returned to the chair of medicine in Edinburgh. This appointment was regarded as controversial by some staid colleagues who were still thinking in terms of Victorian days, and were somewhat alarmed by the return of this outspoken, unpretentious young professor to whom all patients were equal, and who had no time for private practice.

He was determined to reorganize hospital medicine throughout the city, and eventually did so, largely by bringing in consultants who had been trained south of the border. During the second world war he was an adviser to the Department of Health on the organization of hospitals in wartime, and gave advice to the Ministry of Food about rationing.

In 1941 the Polish School of Medicine was founded in Edinburgh, and Stanley Davidson acted as head of the department of medicine until it closed down in 1949. The Order of Polonia Restitutor was conferred on him in 1945 by the President of the Polish Republic. He was created a Knight in 1955. From 1947 to 1952 he was physician to King George VI in Scotland, and from then until 1961 he served the Queen in a similar capacity.

He attempted, in vain, to establish a Royal College of Physicians in Scotland by a merger of institutions, but, despite the temporary divisions that occurred over this issue, he was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1953 to 1957. He received the honorary degree of LLD from Edinburgh University in 1962 and from Aberdeen University in 1971. He had been given an honorary MD by the University of Oslo in 1946.

Most of his writings related to haematology or rheumatic disorders, and the textbooks which he edited alone or with colleagues were the Textbook of Medical Treatment', the Principles and Practice of Medicine, and Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

In his day his sports included golf, tennis, shooting and fishing, and he claimed to know the rivers of New Zealand rather better than those of Scotland. His cautious attitude to financial matters was legendary. It was, for example, impossible to persuade him that it was necessary to purchase a still at £9 with departmental funds in order to obtain distilled water. His solution to the problem was to ask the department of bacteriology to supply it daily, free of cost, in 8 oz. bottles. Fortunately, it was possible to have the still installed when he was away shooting on ‘the twelfth’, and to put the account through when he was fishing. Despite this caution, he made generous financial contributions to the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and to the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh.

It was particularly sad that his wife, Peggy, died in 1979, and that he had to finish his days in a nursing home. Unfortunately, too, he had no children.

RH Girdwood

[, 1981, 283, 993, 1131; Times, 2 Oct 1981]

(Volume VII, page 136)

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