b.20 February 1882 d.29 April 1952
MBE(1918) BA Cantab(1903) MB Cantab(1908) MD Cantab(1914) Hon LLD Glasg(1948) *FRCP(1947) Hon FRFPS(1949)
Geoffrey Fleming was born in Glasgow, the son of William James Fleming, a surgeon on the staff of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, and Annie Cole Walls, of Glasgow. He was educated at Haileybury, King’s College, Cambridge, and Glasgow University. He held resident posts at Ruchill Fever Hospital and the Western Infirmary and then spent some time in post-graduate study in Vienna. On his return to Glasgow he was appointed an extra-dispensary physician at the Western Infirmary and assistant to Dr Thomas McCall Anderson, professor of medicine at the Anderson College.
During the First World War he served in East Africa, reaching the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the M.B.E. When he returned to civil life in 1918 he became interested in paediatrics and for the next thirty-five years served on the staff of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Yorkhill.
In 1924, when Leonard Findlay was elected to the newly-created chair of medical paediatrics at Glasgow University, Fleming became the Leonard Gow lecturer, and in 1930, when Findlay moved to London, he was appointed to the chair, a post he held until his retirement in 1947. In view of his long and valuable services to the University he was granted the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa, and elected to its fellowship when the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow celebrated its 350th Anniversary in 1949.
He was president of the section on diseases of children at the annual meeting of the British Medical Association at Aberdeen in 1939, having acted as secretary in 1922 at Glasgow and 1926 at Nottingham.
Fleming was a frequent contributor to the medical journals and had an international reputation for his observations on the metabolism of infants. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of work on this subject. With the assistance of his faithful chauffeur, who possessed considerable technical skill, he built his own apparatus for the estimation of metabolic rates in small and wasting infants of varying ages. Visitors from home and abroad came to see it.
Much of this work was published in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine, British Medical Journal, Lancet and the Glasgow Medical Journal between 1920 and 1924. Later these observations formed the basis of a small book, Notes on infant feeding (1938), which achieved great popularity, especially with Scottish medical students.
He belonged to one of the oldest Glasgow families and was a Burgess of the city, as had been his forebears through fourteen generations in direct line. Of ample means, he never accepted payment for his services and contributed generously to good causes both medical and social. All who knew him were impressed by his integrity and fairness. Naturally gentle and considerate of the susceptibilities of others, he prided himself not on his attainments, but as a custodian of great traditions.
He was a physician of the old school, conscientious and effective and with the inborn courtesy of an earlier age. Apart from his medical life in Glasgow he lived another one on the moors of Inverness-shire to which he retired for two months each August. He was an excellent shot and a keen angler, and he hunted each winter with the Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire hounds.
He never married. In September 1951 his health broke down and he faced the pain and discomfort of a long illness with simple faith and courage until his death at his home in Glasgow seven months later.
Richard R trail
* He was elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature..."
[Brit.med.J., 1952, 1, 977; Glasgow Herald, 18 Apr. 1952; Glasg, med. J., 1952, 33, 193-5 (p); Lancet, 1952,1, 881, 931 (p).]
(Volume V, page 136)
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