Lives of the fellows

Fergus Robert Ferguson

b.15 December 1899 d.26 August 1974
MB ChB Manch(1920) MD(1924) DPH(1924) MRCP(1929) FRCP(1934)

Fergus Ferguson was born in Warrington (not in Scotland as sometimes reported), the son of Donald Ferguson, a Scottish physician and surgeon practising at Orford Villa, Warrington, and his wife Isabella Boyle.

He was educated at Botelier School, Warrington, and started training in medicine at Manchester University when he was sixteen years old. He graduated in 1920, at the age of 20, with distinctions in forensic medicine, obstetrics, and surgery. He was awarded the surgery clinical prize. This was hardly surprising because, on account of the war, he had served when an undergraduate as house physician and junior and senior house surgeon. On qualification he was appointed house physician at the Royal Infirmary and, following a short voyage as a ship’s surgeon, he became the Leech Research Fellow in anatomy at the University, then medical officer at the Childrens’ Hospital, followed by a period in general practice and a post in bacteriology.

He was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Bacteriology at the University, holding the post for two years. His MD with Gold Medal on an anatomical subject came in 1924, also the DPH. In 1925 he became Resident Medical Officer at the Infirmary for two years, followed by being a Resident and later Registrar at the National Hospital, Queen Square, from 1927 to 1929. The last of these years saw him as a founder member of the Medical Pilgrims, and his appointment to the honorary staff at the Infirmary (1929-64) with a particular interest in neurology. He became a corresponding member of the French Neurological Society in 1934, Physician in charge of a unit at the Infirmary in 1938, and Reader in Neurology at the University in 1946.

During the war years 1939-45 he was Consulting Neurologist to the Western Command and to the Emergency Medical Service. He was President of his own medical society in 1957, a founder member in 1962 - and President in 1963 - of the North of England Neurological Association, President of the Section of Neurology at the Royal Society of Medicine 1961, and of the Association of British Neurologists 1964-65. He was an excellent chairman, for he could control a meeting with firmness and humour.

He was an Examiner at the Royal College of Physicians 1959-63 and a member of the Council 1963-64.

Although there had been several distinguished neurologists on the Infirmary staff during the previous fifty years, it was Ferguson who really put the study of neurology on the hospital’s map, raising it to a level of clinical perfection. This was based on meticulously detailed history taking and clinical examination. Woe betide anyone who had not done his work thoroughly. He would never forget the merciless inquisition that followed - designed to find the correct diagnosis, the essential investigations, and the best way of treating the particular patient. This was splendid training and his methods have been carried far and wide. He was known and respected in many European capitals. He ran a very happy unit and was never too busy to concern himself with the day-to-day nursing needs on his wards. He was naturally rather conservative, but was always willing to accept new ideas such as neurophysiology and neuroradiology and use them to their uttermost limits.

All this left little time for adding to the published literature. But when he did write his contributions were first class. There was a paper on paralysis of the bladder following spinal anaesthesia, and several on migraine - a condition that was apt to trouble him personally. Some were written in collaboration with his friend Macdonald Critchley. Another paper dealt with cerebrospinal metastases from suspected pulmonary carcinoma. When he retired in 1964 he was entertained to dinner by over 70 of those who had worked with him and, at his request, each presented him with a rose bush which he planted in his garden.

He was modest by nature, and friendly, with a sense of humour that seemed to bubble out of him and made him a delightful companion. Although he often said he was a Scot, he was in fact proud of being a Lancastrian and never forgot his home town, Warrington, which he would frequently say had produced Steve Donaghue, George Duckworth and himself - in that order of merit. He had season tickets for the City and United Football Clubs and regularly attended the County Cricket ground at Old Trafford. To be with him on these occasions was a great joy. He loved a party at the hospital or at his home, where he was a most generous host.

He married on 21 February, 1933, Kathleen, daughter of William Wilson, a hat manufacturer of Osborne House, Denton, Lancashire. There were two sons of the marriage; one, William Fergus, became a medical missionary.

William Brockbank

[Brit.med.J., 1974, 3, 811; Lancet, 1974, 2, 790; Photo.]

(Volume VI, page 175)

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